Sarah Jessica Parker as Kate Reddy
Pierce Brosnan as Jack Abelhammer
Greg Kinnear as Richard Reddy
Olivia Munn as Momo Hahn
Christina Hendricks as Allison Henderson
Busy Philipps as Wendy Best
Emma Rayne Lyle as Emily Reddy
Kelsey Grammer as Clark Cooper
Jessica Szohr as Paula
Seth Meyers as Chris Bunce
Jane Curtin as Marla Reddy
Theodore and Julius Goldberg as Ben Reddy
If the question is “How Does She Do It” the answer is she doesn’t. In a film about juggling responsibilities and roles, director Douglas McGrath (“Emma”) follows the same formula as the heroine of Allison Pearson’s novel. He throws as many balls in the air as he can at a time hoping the sheer number will keep anyone from noticing nothing connects them together. The only thing keeping the whole mess from coming down around his ears is the fact that those balls are so light and empty they just float away and vanish, forgotten as quickly as they disappear.
Kate Reddy (Sarah Jessica Parker) is a working mother who’s working side is slowly but steadily pushing out her mother side. When a high-powered investment banker (Pierce Brosnan) calls on her to help him put together the deal of a lifetime she finds the mother part of her life falling further and further by the wayside and she isn’t sure what to do about it.
Which as it goes is a better version of domestic chick flick dramedy than we usually get. There is nary a professional magazine editor or up-and-coming fashion designer in sight. Kate and husband (Greg Kinnear) are still solidly upper class white collar folks, flying about the country on business and only able to function thanks to their flaky nanny (Jessica Szohr) but McGrath and screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna do their best to bring the couple down to earth.
And, despite how badly the proposal is stated, the actual question put forward by “I Don’t Know How She Does It” is an important one: in the quest to have both career and be a mother something is going to have to give and it is quite likely one person can’t have it all. For a genre that tends towards personal fantasy, that is an unsatisfying thesis, which could make “I Don’t Know” genuinely interesting.
Unfortunately someone somewhere has realized that breaking the rules that way is a crap shoot for getting an audience to actually watch your fluffy little movie, so like his characters, McGrath has decided to try and have his cake and eat it too. The result is a film that spends a large amount of time bringing up some difficult questions about prioritizing and then gets rid of them with a handy happy conclusion.
As to be expected, most of the men are quickly sent by the wayside, existing for the most part as either impediments like slimy co-worker Bunce (Seth Meyers) or non-existent husbands (Greg Kinnear) who don’t notice how much their wives do because they don’t have any ‘mommy’ responsibilities themselves.
To be fair, though, the men are the only part of the cast which are wasted or shunted to the side. “I Don’t Know How” is thoroughly Parker’s film with everything revolving around her and most of her supporting cast popping in and out with little to add but mediocre punch lines. Only Olivia Munn as Kate’s careerist assistant who wants nothing to do with marriage or children makes any sort of impression or delivers any of the film’s few chuckles.
McGrath does his best with every trick in his arsenal to keep the audience from noticing how empty the whole thing is, using a mixture of running voice-over and interspersed direct character interviews to try and turn the whole thing into a semi-epistolary affair that directly involves the audience to the point where you’re willing to just let the whole thing wash over you.
It’s tempting to say don’t fall for that, but the reality is it doesn’t matter. Sure, “I Don’t Know How She Does It” is technically a bad film, but it is so utterly forgettable you’ll never remember enough of it for that to matter.