Saturday 20 July 2013

Movie Review: I Don't Know How She Does It (2011)

A breezy comedy about the status of women in the workforce, I Don't Know How She Does It is sometimes sharp but wholly inoffensive.

In Boston, Kate Reddy (Sarah Jessica Parker) juggles a demanding, travel-intensive career at an investment bank with a household full of responsibilities. Her husband Richard (Greg Kinnear) is also working hard to establish the reputation of his new architecture firm, and together they barely keep up with the hectic schedule of their two young kids. At work, Kate's highly capable young assistant Momo (Olivia Munn) is all business, and has no intention of ever having kids.

Kate's life is thrown into a higher level of turmoil when her business proposal for establishing a new mutual fund is accepted for further study by the company brass, requiring her to travel frequently to New York to work closely with senior partner Jack Abelhammer (Pierce Brosnan). At the same time, Richard lands a major new client. Kate does her best to keep up with school bake sales, the children's birthdays and her demanding work responsibilities, while fending off Jack's tentative advances and keeping some semblance of a relationship with Richard. To add to the chaos, Momo goes ahead and unexpectedly gets pregnant.

Based on the best selling novel by Allison Pearson, I Don't Know How She Does It is a snapshot of middle class women in the workforce circa the 2010s. A high wire juggling act in which balls are occasionally dropped, picked up, dusted off and juggled again, there is no longer any expectation or ambition of having it all. Kate is finding satisfaction at work while keeping her home life functional, and does not expect anything to be quite perfect, and does expect everything to be just a bit harried. Her hair is never properly combed and her clothes are rarely free of food stains. She gets by with a good attitude and plenty of support from her husband.

I Don't Know How She Does It can almost pass as a movie companion for Sheryl Sandberg's 2013 book Lean In. Many of the concepts in the book, including saying yes to challenging opportunities at work, the need for a supportive spouse, and the imperative of women supporting each other at work, find an echo in the film. Kate even grapples with an episode of lice, similar to Sheryl's real-life experience.

Parker almost succeeds in finding the necessary depth to carry the movie, but does sometimes slips into her lightweight television persona. She is rescued by a strong supporting cast. Greg Kinnear, Pierce Brosnan and Olivia Munn are joined by Kelsey Grammer (as Kate's boss) and Christina Hendricks (Kate's sassy best friend) to ensure that there is plenty of presence in every corner.

Director Douglas McGrath keeps the mood light, steers away from farce or serious romance, and makes good use of the Boston and New York locations while avoiding travelogue traps. I Don't Know How She Does It is a slice of life, modestly successful in juggling mild humour with social commentary.

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