Ever been to a movie that is actually trying to do something a bit different and you want to like it because it is, but then you realize that it’s actually not that great a movie despite its worthy goals? That is exactly what I Don’t Know How She Does It is. I’ll obviously go into why this is below, but I bring it up now because most of reading this probably think, thanks to the films casting and trailers, that this is a romantic comedy of some sort.
It is not. It’s actually an attempt to make a comedy about working mothers, women in the workplace and family, which is an absolutely fabulous idea — if it had been executed in a way that wasn’t like a bad romantic comedy. Lot’s of films have me walking out thinking the word “bad,” this one had me walking out thinking “too bad.”
Too bad it wasn’t what it could have been.
Now that I’ve explained what I Don’t Know How She Does It is about the title probably makes a bit more sense as I’m pretty sure we’ve all at some point thought that about an impressively busy working mom. Even if you haven’t the film makes sure to drive the point home by repeating the movie’s name multiple times in the opening ten minutes, driving home the point over and over again until its own creativity becomes a cliche. Of course the rest of the movie is one convoluted walking cliche so maybe the filmmakers were simply trying to make the semi-original themes of the film feel at home.
The films is about Kate Reddy (Sarah Jessica Parker) a high-power banker type who works hard and loves her family. These two things obviously clash, especially when she gets the chance to be promoted thanks to a proposal she has worked up. Her job then takes her further away from her family as she has to travel to New York and work with Jack Abelhammer (Pierce Brosnan) three days a week. As the pressures mount and her relationship with her husband, Richard (Greg Kinnear), becomes more strained she must somehow find a balance between work and family before everything blows up in her face. I believe there’s a wonderful story in here for a slight dark comedy, unfortunately all How She Does It is is a romantic comedy with the veneer of something different.
To start off, the movie isn’t quite sure what it wants to be itself. The interesting story is routinely slammed into awkward corners by the trite comedy and out of place site gags that riddle the film. It gets even more confusing because there are about 20 different styles the film utilizes to tell its story. The movie opens attempting a sort of When Harry Met Sally thing where characters are interviewed in order to give commentary while the story unfolds. Then, in a thinly veiled slight of hand, the film starts to get narrated by Sarah Jessica Parker and completely ditches the interview style until it is convenient for a gag line again. On top of this Kate routinely pulls a Zack Morris and pauses time in order to talk to the audience. But what’s the point of that if the movie already has narration which could handle the job and documentary-style interview cutaways that could also handle the job. It’s a big mess from start to finish.
Even when the film does hit some strong notes it under utilizes them. The poster in the movie strongly suggests that we’re getting an ensemble cast film taking a humorous look at the many ways women handle work and family at different stages of their life. What we’re actually getting is the way one woman does this and then some other actresses are crammed in in order to advance the plot and offer flat commentary whenever one of the interview cutaways happen. All the other women in the film (and all the men) are walking stereotypes with little to no depth and yet they clearly want us to all be impressed by how they’re dealing with such an adult issue. Christina Hendrick’s character is the sexually driven working woman, Olivia Munn’s is the young woman who doesn’t understand the joys of parenthood and Busy Philipps is the spoiled stay at home mom. They’re all onscreen for not time at all and obliterate any attempt the film makes at sending an interesting message by being about as deep as puddles. It’s like filling a glass halfway with juice and the rest with sugar and pretending it isn’t just a glass of flavored sugar water, but a health fruit drink.
The comedy itself is straight out of Rom-Com/sitcom comedy 101. If there was an original joke in the film I missed it and most of the unoriginal stuff falls very flat. Instead of handling the themes of work and family balance with dexterity the movie shoves them at you repeatedly until we learn the standard life lesson we’ve seen a million times over in movies with far more cliche ideas. It’s just sad because at every turn it’s obvious that the movie could have had something if the filmmakers had just gone in the right direction with it.
I suppose one shouldn’t review a film for what it isn’t and instead focus on what it is. So I Don’t Know How She Doesn’t isn’t as smart, dark or clever as it should be (or thinks it is), it’s still a comedy about women in the workplace. That has to be good for at least attempting to break some ground, right? Wrong. All a film like this does is reestablish the very gender roles that it clearly thinks it is challenging. By using cliche characters as gags and not actually developing any of its female leads but one it simply reaffirms all the issues its story is trying to dispell. Sure it’s just a dumb comedy, but why not try to do more when you can?