Film School: I Don't Know How She Does It

Film School: I Don't Know How She Does It
New York streetscapes! Snowflakes! SJP! What more to a movie could there be? A lot, according to some reviewers, including the Herald Sun's Leigh Paatsch, who called I Don't Know How She Does It "sappy and crappy"; Variety's Ronnie Scheib, who called it "out of step with contemporary reality and humorless"; and The Vine's Sinead McFly, who called it "unsatisfying". 

Defiant of the negative reviews, I decided to take in a screening with my husband in tow this week. We both thought it was charming.

Based on Allison Pearson's highly circulated 2002 novel, I Don't Know How She Does It gives us a glimpse into the hectic life of corporate career mum Kate Reddy (Sarah Jessica Parker) as she secures the biggest coup of her career and strives to keep all her balls in the air: two young kids, one husband, one demanding boss, a new client, interstate travel and public pretenses (smashing one store-bought pie to make it look like she made it).

I know Kates. I've seen them bake picture-perfect Women's Weekly cakes and string up pinatas and strive to maintain their marriages and homes and sanity (and some semblance of a waist... which is clearly not an issue for SJP) amidst a clamouring of competing interests (hence, the endless lists and dark hair regrowth!). For them, an overnight stay on a work trip can give them the space to think... and to clean out their crammed handbags, as Kate does at the airport. It's the ultimate working mother's metaphor.

Granted, not all working mums have nannies, nor magical self-cleaning Boston apartments, nor high-paying jobs, nor supportive partners who plug the gaps. This is not a one-size-fits-all story but an upper-middle-class narrative with some universal themes, like the creep of work life into home life via technology; the unthinking chauvinism that still permeates once male-dominated industries; and the female apologist who issues a profuse "thank you, thank you" for every deserved win at work and an emphatic "sorry" for every perceived let-down. You can imagine the saccharine, prolific, people-pleaser SJP doing this in real life. Nice or annoying?

It's a timely topic given the far-reaching gender equity debates currently taking place. The papering over Kate's job as a high-powered investment banker with her wish to create financial packages that will buffer retirees is an obvious sensitivity-nod to the GFC (quite unlike the mistimed Sex and the City 2 movie). Bankers should be pleased to have a positive poster girl for their industry.

The heart-wrenching scene where Kate chokes up with tears as she walks away from her daughter to board a flight to New York is one many mothers could relate to, and the accident that happens when Kate's not home is bound to resonate. Coincidentally, it's when Kate finally concedes that she cannot do it all, that her family must come first, that her cards start to fall into place.

The take-home message? Yes, you can have your cake and eat it, too. It's a concept that doesn't sit easily – feminists will rail against the notion that family supersedes career fulfillment; traditionalists will cheer for Kate's mother-in-law who suggests Kate's schedule is "not natural".  Our Govenor General falls somewhere in between, recently telling The Australian Women's Weekly:

"Yes, you can have it all, but not all at the same time. Set your own priorities, trust your gut and follow your heart."

There are some Hallmark card worthy freeze-frame scenes that will make you cringe, and Kate's careless attitude to her dynamite co-worker's pregnancy is also a grand misdemeanour (while well-meaning, Kate's frenzied schedule means she's neither here nor there). Still, Parker gives her character such warmth that you can't help but look past the trivialities to the silver lining. 

Fictional, frothy, flippant, whatever: This is a life-affirming film about a nice girl who's successful and has two beautiful kids and a nice husband she loves, and, well, frankly, I don't see what's so misguided or naff about trying to do your best by the ones you love. The family-friendly happy ending is rather refreshing.

It's the cup of Earl Grey tea to Sex and the City's cosmopolitan.  

An edit of this review appeared today on JUSTB; like the Facebook page to be kept in the loop!

Girl With a Satchel