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?

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Courtney September 15, 2011 at 5:07 pm

I’ll probably see the SJP movie when it comes out on DVD. I, too, read and loved the book, but am hesitant to see the movie, for all of the reasons in your review. Also, I am kind of sick of the high-powered mother making the big money – what about a movie about a mom in small town America, who is a teacher for instance, and how SHE has to make it work without all the money and glitz and glamour (even if that glamour is on the surface only). But I digress..

I watched Up All Night last night, and I liked it, but hope it gets better. Some of it just didn’t ring true. When Reagan goes back to work, she says she’ll miss her baby – but she doesn’t shed a tear, and she ends up working late, and she doesn’t really even seem affected by it. Show the true emotions, the messiness of life with kids, not just how Mom bops back to work and everything is fine, although, oh, she does miss her baby a little bit.


Anonymous September 20, 2011 at 3:44 pm

It will be interesting to see, as Up All Night continues through its first season, whether the baby and parenting parts of it become smaller and smaller.


Meredith Lopez September 15, 2011 at 6:35 pm

I think it’s so hard to do modern motherhood right, because the experience is so different for all of us.

And yet…

We all have enough in common, I think, to stop pulling punches in the few TV shows and movies that attempt to speak to us. I haven’t seen “I Don’t Know How She Does It” (nor read the book), nor seen the show “Up All Night” yet, but I did see the god-awful movie “Motherhood” starring Uma Thurman, and the short-lived show “In The Motherhood.” Both bothered me for different reasons; “In The Motherhood” for, as the above poster said, assuming that all mothers have tons of disposable income for sitters and nannies and never really react to coming home from work after the baby’s been put to bed.

“Motherhood” the movie bothered me so much I’m, like, angry at it. It pulled out every single classic mothering problem we all seem to complain about: taking kids to school in your pajamas, getting the birthday cake wrong; but it does the same thing as you’ve said with “IDKHSDI” – everything is sort of shrugged off. And what about the money issues? The main character lives in TWO apartments in the East Village and has a car – how, exactly, am I supposed to feel sorry for her?

As I said, I think it’s hard to get modern motherhood right. But that doesn’t mean Hollywood shouldn’t even TRY.


Anonymous September 20, 2011 at 3:43 pm

Motherhood is at the top of my Netflix queue. sounds like I’m gonna LOVE it. Not.

You’ve hit the nail on the head Meredith- they do bad movies about motherhood, and then no one goes, and that just (allegedly) proves no one wants to see representations of modern motherhood at all.


Sarah September 16, 2011 at 9:51 pm

Amy, you wrote a blog post weeks ago about switching over to the new site and reminded those of us who use Google Reader (etc.) to update the feed … which I then promptly forgot to do. Finally checking out the new site (looks great!) and so honored to see my blog in your blogroll (with others I love and still more I’m going to check out). Congrats on the new home, I love the name and the look, and am happy to have “re-found” you. 🙂


Anonymous September 20, 2011 at 3:42 pm

Thanks Sarah! I can tell not everyone has migrated over to the new blog with me, but one of these days, I hope to be back to where we were. Nice to be back in touch!


ExperiencedBadMom September 16, 2011 at 11:54 pm

 I saw the part of Up All Night when the parents went out to the Karaoke bar. Did not ring true for me at all. My first thought as I watched the mom get tipsy was, “Well, she’s not breastfeeding is she?”

While I want to go see the SJP movie, I know I won’t. I’ve been trying to arrange an afternoon to go see The Help since it came out over a month ago! And I’ve heard that’s a good movie.


Anonymous September 20, 2011 at 3:41 pm

I am so not a movie-in-the-theater person anymore. And at home I’m too tired to make it through a whole movie in one night. Netflix DVDs sit on my coffee table for months at a time. So I hear you.


Chrysula September 23, 2011 at 12:46 pm

I was so worried this was how that movie was going to play out. Yet again Mom looks like an idiot at the end of the day. So frustrating and more to the point, dishonoring.


Stephanie Precourt September 26, 2011 at 10:21 am

I really want to read the book now (and probably won’t see the movie). I actually liked Up All Night but I’ve only seen the 1st episode. I was seriously thinking just yesterday about you, wondering when your book is going to be made into a movie or TV show… ? 🙂



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