'She Does It,' Badly
Kat Murphy, Special to MSN Movies
Memo to Sarah Jessica Parker: For the love of God, stop churning out avatars of "Sex and the City"'s Carrie Bradshaw. That shtick is so past its sell date. Even in her heyday, not everyone was crazy about Carrie and her airhead aperçus about pretend-life and love. And now, in "I Don't Know How She Does It," her/your magic fizzles for good.
Toxic drool masquerading as a comedic paean to working moms, "I Don't Know How She Does It" struggles to sanctify Kate Reddy, a heroine frazzled to a fare-thee-well by the conflicting demands of job and kids. The script comes courtesy of Aline Brosh McKenna, who's cornered the market on working women's comedy thanks to "The Devil Wears Prada." But it took a stellar cast to ramp up the film's sparkle and bite. In contrast, McKenna's "Morning Glory" drooped: Rachel McAdams and Harrison Ford, playing working girl and reluctant mentor, generated not an iota of charm or chemistry.
Charm and chemistry don't enter into "I Don't Know How She Does It." No one but Kate Reddy lives in Parker-world; other actors are mostly props and extras in her character's lunatic soap opera. Even Kate's kids, billed as the center of her universe, are wind-up toys. Label the chubby little boy "adorable"; older daughter exists only to periodically whap mommy over the head with guilt-inducing whines. Every time Kate tries to fly -- literally -- these albatrosses weigh her down. When she proselytizes her singleton assistant about the "joy" of motherhood, you want to scream, "What joy? Surely this is hell!"
A woman perpetually on the verge of a nervous breakdown, Kate keeps repeating how much she loves her job as an investment broker. Is it quibbling, when you're mired in mindless comedy, to wonder what she loves about it? At her office, Kate's forever kvetching about her children. We see our supposedly super-competent broker slaving over a hot project with a high-level colleague, but only in establishing shots, sans dialogue or, worse yet, as just another opportunity for more of Carrie's -- excuse me, Kate's -- voice-over babble about the lure of work vs. love of rug rats.
And, mind you, this screeching, sobbing, lice-ridden (don't ask), unkempt, drably garbed whirling dervish somehow retains the love of her amiable and bemused husband (Greg Kinnear, wasted as usual). Who Mr. Reddy is, what dreams Kate's castrato might have beyond keeping this aggressively unattractive, charmless woman in his life -- all irrelevant because, like her spawn, hubby's just a figment of Kate's fevered solipsism.
Adjust your focus just a little and "I Don't Know How She Does It" looks like a really cheesy horror movie, fueled by manufactured hysteria and terror, featuring a horse-faced, psychotic Mother hiding behind long stringy hair. Madly dressing up a store-bought pie in the middle of the night for her daughter's school bake sale, sobbing down a New York street on her way to the biggest break of her career, Parker's crazy lady alternates between barely distinguishable emotional poles, verbally expressed in "I'm so sorry" and "Thank you, thank you, thank you." Still, despite all that groveling gratitude, our Kate's a killer at heart.
The movie flirts with a possible hookup between Kate and her new mentor, sexy and non-sexist Jack Abelhammer (Pierce Brosnan, pretending he's really in the game). Brosnan's Abelhammer (a name replete with phallic promise) exudes avuncular magnetism, suggesting a more polished Mr. Big. But even this masculine paragon's no match for Kate, who will casually unman Abelhammer just as she has her husband -- for love of the Children, of course. (Kelsey Grammer, as Kate's boss, and "SNL"'s Seth Meyers, playing a super-competitive colleague, are cartoons of male chauvinism.)
Two actresses briefly brighten "I Don't Know." As Kate's assistant, Olivia Munn deliciously caricatures the buttoned-down professional woman, humorless, impeccably groomed, on top of every aspect of her work. When the comedically gifted Munn turns her gaze on her eternally disheveled and distracted boss, she mugs puzzled distaste and sheer horror, as though she had just eyeballed a slobbering, bug-shaped alien. Her reaction's hilarious and oh so welcome. But motherhood won't be mocked: Just as absent Kate must be punished by her kid falling down a staircase, unapologetic self-sufficiency must inevitably succumb to baby worship.
Then there's Christina Hendricks. Playing Kate's best friend, this glorious redhead offers occasional commentary straight into the camera. Doesn't matter what drivel the script puts in her mouth. Effortlessly claiming our attention and interest, Hendricks is so warmly adult, radiant with beauty and intelligence, she makes us forget that "I Don't Know How She Does It" is a cliché-ridden, misogynistic mess. Give this goddess a movie of her own!
Kat Murphy once had the pleasure of writing a book-length comparison of Howard Hawks and Ernest Hemingway, friends and fellow travelers in fiction (Quentin Tarantino reckoned it "cool."). She's reviewed movies in newspapers and magazines (Movietone News, Film Comment, Village Voice, Film West, Steadycam) and on websites (Reel.com, Cinemania.com, Amazon.com). Her writing has been included in book anthologies ("Women and Cinema," "The Myth of the West," "Best American Movie Writing 1998"). During her checkered career, Kat's done everything from writing speeches for Bill Clinton, Jack Lemmon, Harrison Ford, et al., to researching torture-porn movies for a law firm. She adores Bigelow, Breillat and Denis -- and arguing about movies in any and all arenas.