I Don’t Know How She Does It: my review

Yesterday I was lucky enough to attend a preview screening of I Don’t Know How She Does It, hosted by the Moms and the City  and including a post-screening discussion with Sarah Jessica Parker herself. I can report that La SJP is just as absolutely gorgeous and adorable and self-deprecating in person as you might expect; that she really does seem like a cool and normal mom; and that this particular audience of cool and normal moms squealed like teenyboppers when she first walked in. It was like a private audience with Cinderella in her castle at Disney World.

What started as a typical Q&A (“So how DO you do it, Sarah Jessica?”) became more of a group discussion after SJP suggested she’d prefer that to the thousandth interview in which she gave the same somewhat rehearsed answers. She put down her mike and asked the audience what WE wanted to say, and it was an interesting and exhilarating and challenging conversation. Which was great, because I am sorry to say, the movie was none of those things.

I Don’t Know How She Does It shows a mother walking her daily tightrope, and heaven knows we all have some stories that would curl moviegoers’ hair. But in this film, there are no consequences for adorably haphazard parenting.

  • Kate has to bring a store-bought pie to the school’s bake sale in the opening sequence. The horror! The horror! And then… nobody notices or says anything.
  • Kate finds out she has lice just before a big business meeting! And then… the client doesn’t notice, she gets it all combed out in the next scene, and it’s never mentioned again.
  • Kate turns off her Blackberry and misses several frantic calls from her husband that their 2 year old is in the emergency room! And then… he bumped his head but he’s fine. And it’s never mentioned again.

That’s pretty much the movie. I could go on, but it’s boring, and that’s my point. Worst of all, I think it sets mothers back. I’m thrilled to see a movie about motherhood that says it’s going to tell the truth. But when it pulls its punches, it makes us look like we’re all a bunch of addled overthinkers, making up our own problems because we have no real ones. And the thorny conclusion, which seems to suggest that women really can’t ever put their careers first, will probably raise some hackles.

I loved the novel on which this film was based; it was hilarious in an ouch-too-true way, and it has a dry British sense of humor that was lost in translation, and in wondering how that happened, I’m inspired to pick it up again. But I don’t think this movie goes at all far enough in raising the issues that today’s mothers have, and want to talk about. There’s an intended irony in the title: she’s NOT doing it, of course, she’s barely getting by, she only looks perfect from the outside. Inside she’s a mess. But this movie makes it all look way too easy. You do know how she does it, and heck, it’s not even that hard.

In her review of NBC’s “Up All Night” in yesterday’s New York Times, Alessandra Stanley seemed similarly frustrated that it didn’t go far enough either:

“Up All Night” takes three of the funniest actors working on the small screen and ties their hands while asking them to send up child rearing, which, as most mothers know, is as dangerous and scary as racecar driving, only you never actually get anywhere….the show has to get over its fear of offending. Infants don’t break that easily, and neither do comedies written at their expense.

If you’ve seen either I Don’t Know How She Does It or Up All Night, I’m curious what you think. Do you feel it reflected your life accurately? Can it? Should it? Would it be funny if it did?

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