Monday, September 19, 2011

I Don't Know How She Does It

MPAA (PG-13) CNS/USCCB (A-III) Michael Philips (2 Stars) Fr Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing -
CNS/USCCB review -
Michael Philip's review -,0,5672469.column

I Don't Know How She Does It (directed by Douglas McGrath, screenplay by Aline Brosh McKenna, based on the novel by Allison Pearson) is a nice feel good comedy about a modern woman, Kate Reddy (played by Sarah Jessica Parker) who's trying really hard to do it all.  She and her husband Richard (played by Greg Kinnear) live somewhere in an upper middle class neighborhood in Boston.  They have two kids, a kindergartener named Emily (played by Emma Rayne Lyle) who's already getting something of an attitude and 2 year old Ben (played by Julius and Theadore Goldberg) who still loves his parents unconditionally but has the verbal skills of a, well, a two year old (boy).  Mother-in-law, Marla Reddy (played by Jane Curtin of 1st cast SNL fame) blames Kate for Ben's apparent poor verbal skills.

The generally happy but often frazzled couple, Kate and Richard, are both professionals.  Richard is/was an architect.  Kate works for the Boston branch of a New York headquartered Financial Services Company.  Both have had their careers effected by current financial crisis.  At the beginning of the movie, the two are celebrating (somewhat) a break that Richard has finally received ("no more remodeling basements").  But it's really Kate's career (at the bank, er FSC) that is clearly gearing-up to go somewhere, even if (1) Kate's keenly aware what most of the rest of the country thinks of bankers these days, and (2) she knows that the family is suffering even as she's asked to fly around the country as part of her work.  Kindergartener Emily, Mother-in-law Marla and eventually Richard make sure that she knows how much she's being missed.

At her job, Kate works for Clark Cooper (played by Kelsey Grammar) who isn't always the most sensitive of bosses.  He tries, but ... he is a man.  And it just doesn't fall anywhere in his experience that after returning from a cross-country business trip, Kate has to bake a pie for Emily's kindergarten bakesale the next day.  Kate also has to deal with a rival/suck-up to the boss Chris Bunce (played by Seth Meyers also of SNL, if more recent fame) whose experience of being a married man with a family also seems utterly different from Kate's (Chris' wife does everything at home so he has nothing to do other than plot ways to suck-up to Clark).

Kate also has a super-driven assistant named Momo Hahn (played by Olivia Munn) who looks at _her boss_, Kate, and just doesn't get her life at all (and doesn't want to), declaring early in the movie that she's long decided that she doesn't want to get married or have kids.  Career and an occasional "business-like" fling is all that Momo appears willing (or able) to undertake.  Kate and Richard's babysitter Paula (played by Jessica Szohr), who's on the beach holding a surf-board when not babysitting for them, also doesn't understand Kate.  Both Momo and Paula keep saying "I don't know how you do it" to Kate and neither means this as much of a compliment.  At least initially, both Momo and Paula think that Kate just doesn't know how to make choices.

More sympathetic is Kate's best friend, Allison Henderson (played by Christina Hendricks).  She's a single working mom of Kate's age and part of what Kate confesses that she likes about her is that Allison is the one person that she can always count-on for baking even worse than she does.  So when Kate, for lack of time and the grocery store being closed, comes to Emily's school with a store-bought pie that she mashed into a larger pie pan and sprinkled with powdered sugar for the Kindergarten bake sale, Allison comes with a malformed ball (or was it supposed to be a block) of orange jello.  To Allison, Kate with her powdered-sugar covered storebought pie is a hero.  Again, she says "I don't know how you do it ..."  But both Kate and Allison are hopeless home-economics losers to their stay-at-home wife/mommy rivals Wendy Best (played by Busy Philipps) and Janine LoPietro (played by Sarah Stahi) who when not baking for such bakesales seeming to spend the rest of their days at the health club or taking pallotti classes.

Such then is the ensemble cast which then act out the story: Even as husband Richard finally gets his break at his work, Kate is offered a far greater, though more time consuming opportunity as well.  She is given a chance by her boss Clark to pitch an idea to one of the big-wigs from New York, Jack Abelhammer (played by Pierce Brosnan), who likes both the idea, and ... frankly Kate as well ...

What to do?  Well having set the story up, this is what the movie's about.  IN THE BEST TRADITION of Comedy, it "all ends well."  Nobody ends up getting hurt.  And even the potential sexual harassment issue is handled quite nicely.

Earlier in my life when I was first reading about movies, I read from a number of authors that film as a mass medium when used well does have a mediating function: societal problems are first presented to a viewing audience and then  solutions proposed.  The audience _participates_ in this process by either accepting or rejecting (or partially both) both the articulation of the problem(s) presented in the film and then the film's proposed solution(s).

I found this film as fitting exactly this mold.  First, this movie is a comedy.  That doesn't mean that it doesn't deal with anything serious or with social problems.  It does, but it does so lightly (and in this case _quite gently_) in a way that the whole family can watch/participate.  It then proposes a number of optimistic/positive solutions to the problems presented.

What are the problems?  Well, let's tick them off: (1) Today, most parents either by choice or necessity work.  (2) The current financial crisis has damaged or destroyed entire industries.  So even college educated professionals who in past could count on getting work can't necessarily count on this any more. (3) These days, a lot women are finding themselves getting better jobs (or offered better job opportunities) than their husbands, yet (4) they remain simply indispensable at home as well.  Finally, (5) with both men and women in the work force even James Bond could find himself (or herself) falling for a co-worker.  How to manage all this?

Well, the movie made much of the metaphor that Kate had to be "a juggler."  Perhaps today, _we're all_ jugglers, and _all of us_ could be asked: "How do you do it (all)?"

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