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Film Review – I Don’t Know How She Does It

Venue: Cine 4, Ster-Kinekor, Maerua Mall
Director: Douglas McGrath
Screenplay: Aline Brosh McKenna (screenplay); Allison Pearson (novel)
Players: Sarah Jessica Parker; Greg Kinnear; Christine Hendricks; Pierce Brosnan
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Rating: ***½

The title may be considered frothy or clichéd but it becomes a mantra which is bleated by various characters in the film, as an expression of admiration for Kate Reddy (Parker), our intrepid heroine who is determined, even passionate, about balancing a career and motherhood. To this end, the film could be considered a valuable social documentary about the hazards of modern life for the working woman. The conventional crises are outlined in elaborate detail so that by the end of the film the viewer is exhausted.
The director’s approach is innovative and satirical.  There are, for instance, the usual odious comparisons between the roles of men and women, both in the workplace and within the family. Kate Reddy, whose surname is most certainly symbolic, endures sleepless nights because her mind is plagued with lists of things to do the following day while her husband snores lustily a her side. Her lists are superimposed on the screen action in hurried handwriting. Comparisons are also made between the working mothers and the “Mumsters” , vapid blondes and brunettes who spend their lives in the gym focussing on the great “I am” but still win hands down for school bake-offs and are teachers’ pets for the Parent-Teacher contributions. In an opening scene, Kate is rushing to school with a tart, purchased from a reputable emporium which she has squashed into a tart plate and generously sprinkled with icing sugar to conceal the crumbling, cracked pastry and the commercial appearance. Her friend, Alison Henderson, (Hendricks) fares even worse with a large tub of Jello which has refused to set. Chief ‘Mumster’, on the other hand, is Angela Best (another symbolic name!) and her friends, who swing past with culinary triumphs and are described by Kate in a kindly moment as “a tiny army of mini-Martha Stewarts”.
It seems that Kate is certainly beset by a persecution complex. Apart from the supercilious contempt displayed to her by the Mumsters, she must also endure the guilt trips evinced by her husband and daughter. The general perception of working mums is “just below felon and just above gangster”, according to Kate.  Her in-laws are also suspect persecutors, with their cheerful innuendoes: they explain two-year-old Ben’s inability to talk, for instance, as maternal neglect. Kate’s daughter’s attack takes the form of a direct, accusatory whinge.
A crowd of cameo characters fill her workplace: Chris Bunce, the office DOA (Designated Office Arsehole) and her boss, Clark Cooper (Grammer), a hatchet-faced autocrat with a regal sense of privilege to dispense favour. Kate’s personal assistant, a Harvard research analyst ,is immaculately dressed and coiffed, in keeping with the image of the single professional female. Kate is chaotic, beset by the importunities of Fate, dedicated to succeed, and always cramming just too much into her day – and night. She is, perforce, a nocturnal animal as well.  She is forced to work with business icon Jack Abelhammer, whose name certainly suggests both competence and powerful force.
An important business contract which could beneficially influence Kate’s career as an investment banker notches up the screws of coping to an unbearable level.  Somehow, however, this Supermom and professional prodigy squeaks through most dramatic reversals with a cheerful and optimistic mien.  She promises husband Richard (Kinnear) that “I’m going to do my best that nothing will fall through the cracks.”
Now here is a heroic character of note: husband Richard is facing professional dramas of his own but is sincerely accepting of his wife’s position and ambition which results in late nights at the office with Abelhammer and trips to destinations which requires overnight accommodation. He copes – without a squeak or demur.
It is impossible to keep the worlds of work and family separate and collision is inevitable. One humorous example is the Kate’s infection of lice, transmitted by her daughter, which plagues her during a life-and-death business interview. Another more important example is during Kate’s much-needed Thanksgiving vacation when she has to choose between saving her deal or passing the responsibility to Bunce, the DOA, so that he can cream the credit.
Voiceover provides a stream-of-consciousness technique as Kate expounds at length on her opinions and perceptions of life in the fast lane. This does not involve as much fun as the idiom, ‘life in the fast lane’, usually suggests. “The key to juggling,” expounds Kate, “is not catching – but throwing – so I kept throwing.” It is a technique which works 90% of the time. She also feels that “The inside of a woman’s head is like the air traffic control room at O’Hare Airport.” An interesting cinematic technique is to freeze frame a scene so that only Kate comes out of the static, two-dimensional tableau to offer more homely advice or confess to some insecurity. Apart from voiceover, characters face the camera, as if being interviewed, and voice their feelings and perceptions about life – and Kate.
The novel, written in the form of a diary and comic in content was a best seller. McKenna has tried to remain faithful to the intention and mood of the novelist. Producers like the Weinstein brothers do not finance flops so their endorsement and support of this film is recommendation enough. Ultimately, if one can surmount the triviality of the title, the film is a witty and entertaining example of the genre. Generally, it is the underwhelming characters which prove the funniest. Sarah Jessica Parker (not my favourite actress) handles the role of Kate well, as she promotes the image of competence, calmness, and optimism, which veils deep-seated insecurities.
Ultimately Kate has to make some serious choices because, as she says, “I have two lives and I don’t enjoy either of them.” Success in one invariably means failure in the other. Ultimately she decides that “Trying to be a man is a waste of a woman.”

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