The frazzled dazzle of Sex and the City star Sarah Jessica Parker as "juggler" Kate Reddy – a fortysomething woman balancing a career in financial management with motherhood and marriage to a recently downsized architect – is not enough to save I Don't Know How She Does It from fizzling out almost before it begins.
Director Douglas McGrath, who has written and directed literary adaptations including Emma, Nicholas Nickleby and Infamous (and was co-writer on Woody Allen's Bullets Over Broadway), delivers a good-looking, briskly paced domestic comedy, but he puts aside his pen for this one. Instead, Aline Brosh McKenna ( The Devil Wears Prada) has adapted columnist Allison Pearson's bestselling 2002 novel for the screen, keeping the extremely thin plot focused, but relying heavily on familiar TV devices.
The voice-over narration from Kate is not nearly as illuminating, or as humorous, as the insights from Parker's character Carrie in Sex and the City. And the documentary-style interviews with supporting characters, so popular on one-camera sitcoms, offer viewers absolutely nothing of added value – with the standout exception of Olivia Munn ( The Daily Show), who plays Kate's attractive, smart and robotically efficient assistant and pretty near steals the show.
Aside from its spoon-feeding the audience an abundance of clichés, the main problem is that this Boston-set flick quite unselfconsciously presents itself as if it were a pop-culture first to express ideas about the working-mom balancing act.
And the movie's mean streak – Busy Philipps as a kind of superior "Housewives of Boston" mom, and SNL's Seth Meyers as an annoyingly competitive co-worker – really don't provide a serious threat to Kate's future as a mom and worker.
All this will likely not go down well with the millions of smart working moms, not to mention Parker fans, who the producers expect will want to see this movie.
In the end, there is forward momentum but zero tension here. Kate lands a potentially career-boosting opportunity to develop a major new account and must make frequent trips to New York, where she works closely with the dashing Jack Abelhammer (Pierce Brosnan). Back at home, her unfailingly understanding husband (Greg Kinnear, likeable as always, but not given much to work with) just wants a few minutes of grown-up time with his wife. When Kate has to leave a Thanksgiving family trip to meet an important deadline, it's positioned as a potential crisis point.
But I Don't Know How She Does It is both too much and not enough like real life for that. It's a going-through-the-motions domestic comedy that makes, say, Cheaper By The Dozen look like a heart-warming, cutting-edge laugh riot.
Special to The Globe and Mail
I Don't Know How She Does It
- Directed by Douglas McGrath
- Screenplay by Aline Brosh McKenna
- Starring Sarah Jessica Parker, Greg Kinnear, Pierce Brosnan, Olivia Munn and Christina Hendricks
- Classification: PG