Sarah Jessica Parker in ‘I Don’t Know How She Does It’

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CHICAGO – She produced and starred in one of the great TV-to-film franchises of the last 15 years. She has made millions in endorsements for the fashion industry. She is married to a prominent celebrity who once played Ferris Bueller. Regarding Sarah Jessica Parker, “I Don’t Know How She Does It.”

That exclamation regarding Parker’s achievements is also the title of her latest film, where Ms. P trades “Sex and the City” for Mommy guilt in the city. This is based on a novel by Alice Pearson, which can be characterized as “upper middle class porn.” It’s not enough to have the double income, childcare help and a high-level job, there has to be a pink-covered literary tome and film version extolling those traits as either marvelously difficult or the second coming of motherhood. Both book and film require a squelching of the gag reflex (both in choking and humor).

Sarah Jessica Parker is Kate, who is introduced in a bizarre documentary style, worshiped for her ability to have two children, a husband AND a well-endowed job at a financial institution (obviously set before “too big to fail”). Part of the documentary has the perfect, stay-at-home mothers (represented by a work-out queen played by Busy Phillipps) dumping on the working mother. Kate travels at lot, leaving her husband Richard (Greg Kinnear) to deal with the home front, which causes questioning and guilt. Kate also makes lists in her head, leaving behind the energy-enhancing sleep that most likely caused the market meltdown.

Working Mom: Sarah Jessica Parker as Kate and Pierce Brosnan as Jack in ‘I Don’t Know How She Does It’
Working Mom: Sarah Jessica Parker as Kate and Pierce Brosnan as Jack in ‘I Don’t Know How She Does It’
Photo credit: Craig Blankenhorn for The Weinstein Company

After coming up with a new financial product (which suspiciously seems like a 401K), she must put in even more hours, which leaves her rival Bunce (Seth Meyers) on her six-inch heels, her associate Momo (Olivia Munn) at her bidding and her best friend Allison (Christina Hendricks) flexing her ample bosom in admiration. When Jack Abelhammer (Pierce Brosnan), the banker associated with the potential new fund, starts revealing a crush on our heroic Mom, the balance of home, work and life just added another wrinkle, next to the stain on her blouse that she hilariously can’t have cleaned (because she has no time!).

The problem off the bat is none of the characters possess traits that exhibit a true human depth. They are all stereotypes of the highest order, and because of that does disservice to any actions or reactions they practice while meandering through the story. They exist either in contrast to Kate (Momo is a high-ambition, single work horse) or to lovingly admire her (Allison, Hubby and Jack). With no subtlety, vulnerability or frailty in existence, except having to do with time management, either feeling sorry for or worshiping Kate is impossible. For example, one idea for a character nuance is that she once bowled. And?

This is one of those star studded films that wastes all of the award-winning talent available. Emmy winners include Ms. Parker (also with four Golden Globes), Kelsey Grammer (also two Globes) and Jane Curtin. On the film side there is Greg Kinnear (Oscar nomination) and Pierce Brosnan (James Bond). For new star credibility, there is Christina Hendricks, who plays Joan in the superior TV show “Mad Men.” How did all this tall talent end up thinking this story was worth their names and effort (paycheck)? Curtin was particularly egregious, having to represent the goodness of the stay-at-home mother of the past, in contrast to her rebellious former life as an original “Saturday Night Live” player. “Jane, you ignorant sl*t!”

The documentary style is truly weird, because there is not a documentary maker alive that would consider this subject matter worthy or interesting, unless they were focusing on the angle of fading award-winning careers. They threw the so-called perfect Mom under the bus, she is the worst stereotype, because all of her talk-to-the-camera bits were filmed at a gym, with the appropriate spoiled queen dialogue. Olivia Nunn’s Momo was also thrown to the wolves, both representing the emptiness of a single woman workaholic and the hope for her redemption by forcing her closer to Kate’s domestic bliss.

Smooth Sledding: Sarah Jessica Parker and Greg Kinnear as Hubby Richard in ‘I Don’t Know How She Does It’
Smooth Sledding: Sarah Jessica Parker and Greg Kinnear as Hubby Richard in ‘I Don’t Know How She Does It’
Photo credit: Craig Blankenhorn for The Weinstein Company

There is only one funny line in the whole film. When Kate and Jack go bowling, another teammate eggs on the starchy executive to get a strike, and “I’ll even forgive you for being a banker.” The rest of the humor is forced, the audience in attendance at the screening laughing almost perfunctorily, as if they were in a sitcom audience.

Throwing the source novel aside, Parker’s character is the least admirable working mother you can imagine. How much will she make when that financial product scores? Will there be an SEC investigation? Will James Bond become a professional bowler? I don’t know how they do it, at least with a straight face (paycheck).

“I Don’t Know How She Does It” opens everywhere September 16th. Featuring Sarah Jessica Parker, Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear, Christina Hendricks, Kelsey Grammer, Seth Meyers, Olivia Munn, Busy Phillipps and Jane Curtin. Adapted for the screen by Aline Brosh McKenna from the novel by Alice Pearson. Directed by Douglas McGrath. Rated “PG-13” senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2011 Patrick McDonald,

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