Back in the day (1998-2004) The HBO Cable Network broadcast a hugely popular TV series. In 2007, Time Magazine called HBO’s Sex and the City one of the 100 Best TV Shows of All Time. My reaction to this phenomenon? I had no reaction as I had seen none of it. The Carrie Bradshaw era, with Sarah Jessica Parker as Bradshaw passed by me just like another eighteen wheel trailer truck on the highway – a huge vehicle with unknown content.
I’m told that this long running TV series spun off two sequels in the form of films. I missed those as well. So when I made the decision to see I Don’t Know How She Does It with Sarah Jessica Parker as the lead, it wasn’t because of Parker’s history as Bradshaw. I chose this film based on seeing and liking two other films by the screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna – The Devil Wears Prada (2006) and Morning Glory (2010).
If I had to rate these films 1 to 3, then I must say that I Don’t Know How She Does It would be the 3rd of three. That’s not bad (that ranking) in and of itself, but it’s nothing special either. The simple truth is that this ‘dramedy’ – has much to like about it, much that works fine, but it’s never going to reach the heights.
People are not going to exit the theater, punching their cell phones back on to spread good tidings about this one. No one’s going to spend hours chatting about it over coffee. Parker plays Kate Reddy, a Boston-based financial executive whose career is about to take a huge step up on that slippery slope known as the corporate ladder. Her regional Boston boss, played by Kelsey Grammer (he’s definitely not in Frasier territory here), had solicited ideas for a new financial product. Well, Kate’s idea of a Fund for Retired Folks with a specialization in Dividend Producing Equities to supplement those fixed incomes, was deemed best of the lot. Kate is invited to pitch it to the big boys down in New York.
Of course this means tons more work and research, tons more travel, tons more pressure and stress, and most of all it means more and more time on the road away from her husband and two small kids. The thing of it is, Kate is already under severe pressure just maintaining the status quo as it is now – before her business plan would acquire major legs.
She tells us – yeah, she speaks right to us (the third wall vanishes) just like it did nearly 50 years ago when Michael Caine was young and starred in Alfie. He’d tell us, in asides, what we would need to know. We also saw it on TV in the 70’s and 80’s when Bennie Hill did it regularly. Well what goes around comes around.
Kate says that what she does is to juggle. She keeps all these balls in the air – marriage, children, work, and play – simultaneously. She tells us that the secret is not in the catching of these balls but in the throwing.
We get this kind of chatter – characters speaking directly to the audience not only from Parker’s Kate Reddy, but also from her best friend Allison, played by Christina Hendricks, from Kate’s assistant Momo, played by Olivia Munn, and also by one of her friends called Wendy Best who is played by Busy Philipps. In the main, it works – sort of like a revolving Greek chorus – but just one at a time rather than in unison.
These asides are often quite funny and very welcome. They’re like little bits of insider info and explanations, and they do keep the story moving – in fact the film clocks in at a relatively briskly paced 93 minutes – it kind of whizzes by.
Yes for sure, most of this film is about a working mom and her kids, her husband, and homemaking as well as the warfare in the trenches of business and office politics. So many of you men, might not think you’ll want to see this one. But the film is not all women – there are some men of course – The already mentioned Grammer as Kate’s Boss, still has that unmatched actor’s timing. Only here he hasn’t anything to say that’s funny. He’s kind of a ‘meanie’.
Seth Myers plays Chris Bunce – he’s the guy in Kate’s office who pats her on the back, compliments her, and performs endless bits of back stabbing – virtually all at the same time – or at least with the same scene if not the same breath.
Then there’s Pierce Brosnan as the New York based honcho, Jack Abelhammer. He’s still tall, and suave, and great looking – but his Bond, James Bond, is history. At 58 and counting, he’s much closer to seven zero than double ought seven. His Beretta has been replaced by a Mont Blanc pen. There’s no Moneypenny for him to play off of. Kate Reddy turns Jack’s head, you know, while she’s working with him – only she’s true blue.
The guy who does have the most lines and screen time is Kate’s husband Richard Reddy, played by Greg Kinnear. He begins the film as the house-husband, shopping, cooking, getting the daughter off to school and watching the toddler. But that has to change and does. Only once he’s back in the workforce, Kate’s star is really ascending. So Poor Richard, he doesn’t even get the almanac, has to do without sex, and he has to go without time to talk, walk, or even watch a DVD together with his wife.
So as the film unspools, we learn that Kate’s balancing act of keeping those balls in the air is still working, but there’s major slippage everywhere – promises to the kids not kept, business travel intruding on family plans – she even has to exit her family’s Thanksgiving dinner to catch a plane, and in one of the cruelest of these unplanned cruelties – on a night when she and Richard are both home and ready for some heavy breathing ‘neath the sheets, Kate falls asleep before poor Richard can finish brushing his teeth.
And so it goes.
Well I liked it, to a degree, but must tell you that the laughter which I expected to come frequently came rarely. We had tons of SJP – and she’s attractive, energetic, appealing, and perky – but she’s only the 6th best looking woman in the film. She gets the nod only over Jane Curtin as her mother-in-law, and the young actress who played her mostly disappointed with Mom, 7-year-old daughter.
McKenna’s screenplay isn’t bad, it just doesn’t hit any high points or provide me with some memorable quotes. The happy ending is no surprise at all. Director Doug McGrath gives us a visually pleasing film, and we aren’t overwhelmed by apartments or homes or even offices to die for. Hendricks’ notoriously huge bust is kept under wraps throughout.
There’s no on-screen simulated sex, or even foreplay. No nudity. Even the four letter words are kept to a minimum. In my view, the supporting actresses from Momo the assistant and Allison the best friend, right down to Paula the nanny, all steal the film away from SJP.
They may not have intended this film to be the successor, or latest incarnation to the Sex and the City franchise, but going in, it’s hard not think and expect something going in that direction. Only thing is, you have to replace the sex with Parker/Reddy’s juggling act – and this film just isn’t good enough to make that a truly enjoyable event for you.