While enjoying huge success on the small screen as neurotic shopaholic columnist Carrie Bradshaw in HBO’s Sex an the City, Sarah Jessica Parker’s cinematic career has faired less well. SATC’s big screen outings were phenomenally successful, but managed to destroy much of the goodwill the series had rightly garnered. Dispensing with the smart wit and insightful commentary, the materialism won out and the “girls” became haggard, vulgar and garishly adorned cougars, from whom no sane minded person would ever take advice.
I Don’t Know How She Does It is based on the bestselling novel by British journalist Allison Pearson and casts SJP in a role much closer to her own home life. Kate Reddy is a successful investment banker at a Boston firm, and is the primary breadwinner for her family. Her husband’s career is struggling and their two young children make huge demands on her time. As she juggles to stay on top of everything, it’s “the little things” that unsurprisingly fall through the cracks.
While Kate is a far cry from the needy, desperate disaster zone that was Carrie Bradshaw, director Douglas McGrath goes out of his way to instill marked similarities. Kate frequently addresses the audience, both through voiceover and by talking directly into the camera (as Carrie originally did in Sex and the City), imparting hard-earned advice about parenting and personal organization. Kate also surrounds herself with a trusted network of dependable gal pals, most notably fellow career mum Allison (Christina Hendricks) and emotionally detached workhorse Momo (Olivia Munn). In them she confides about her worries at home, her insecurities at work, and the growing undercurrent of attraction between her and company head Jack Ablehammer (Pierce Brosnan)
So, in many ways it’s business as usual for SJP. She totters around in high heels and designer outfits, although now they display telltale smears of baby food. She worries, procrastinates, and wears herself out trying to do what’s best, not only for herself, but also for her family. And this is why Kate is better than selfish sad sack Carrie, and helps SJP win back some of the audience that made her a star in the first place – you like her. That said, every time a member of the supporting cast appears, be it Hendricks, Munn, or the wonderful Busy Philipps as the competitive supermum from hell, we clamour for more. Refreshingly, the men are given a fair shout, with Brosnan on fine form, Seth Meyers making a delightfully smarmy co-worker and Kelsey Grammer as Kate’s paternal boss all refraining from crass chauvinism. Greg Kinnear also accomplishes the tricky task of playing the subordinate husband, without appearing weak or emasculated.
Make no mistake, the plot of I Don’t Know How She Does It pulls no punches as it marches forward towards its predictable resolution, but it does so with style and a breezy confidence, and the pay-off packs a surprisingly emotional punch. Sarah Jessica Parker made a decent movie? I don’t know how she did that.