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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington Wilmington@moviecitynews.com

Wilmington on Movies: I Don’t Know How She Does It

 

 

U.S.: Douglas McGrath, 2010 (Two Stars)
 
I Don’t Know How They Do It 
  
Summary
You think you’ve got problems? Let me tell you, you don’t know what “problems” mean until you’ve had a peep at the Perils of Parker in the movie I Don’t Know How She Does It, Sarah Jessica’s latest cinematic power point presentation of the life and high times of a glamorous big city working girl — excuse me, working woman. Uh, make that working mother.
 
Power Points
* Problem Number One: Ms. Kate Reddy (Parker) works as an investment analyst at a high-powered Boston investment company, where she‘s a pet of her acerbic boss, Clark Cooper (Kelsey Grammer), and also the fair-haired lady of the company, and probably pulling down a high six figure salary. (I don’t know what these guys pay: something huge, I bet. Maybe she gets a million, maybe more. Maybe not. And maybe also one of those outrageous banker bonuses they damned well don’t deserve.)
 
*Problem Number Two:
She’s married to nice bright, affectionate husband Richard (Greg Kinnear at his most papa-puppyish), and she has two, of course, adorable kids — and since Richard is irregularly-employed as an architect, he has plenty of time to house-husband the place, along with the family’s sexy nanny, thereby freeing up Kate for other crucial aspects of mom-hood, like dropping off her daughter (Emma Rayne Lyle) at school and buying balloons and pies for parties and school events, and paying the bills, and oh, lots of stuff.
 
*Problem Number Three:
Unfortunately, due to the joint pressures of financial analysis and architecture, Kate’s sex life with Richard has dwindled, to the point where, when they make an assignation for bedtime, she falls asleep. He doesn’t wake her up. (Now, that’s a problem.)
 
*Problem Number Four:
Kate‘s mother is played by Jane Curtin, and she’s the only ‘70s “Saturday Night Live” alumnus in the movie.
 
*Problem Number Five:
A nasty but glamorous looking mother who also has children at her school — Busy Phillips as blonde bumshell Wendy — makes nasty remarks about Kate, mostly while on an exercise machine.
 
*Problem Number Six: Kate gets a brilliant idea for an innovation in fund investment, and prompts boss Clark to send her off to Manhattan, alone, to iron out the kinks in the plan and sell the project, working with a higher-up who looks just like James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) and who starts flirting with Kate almost immediately. He’s a widower, his name is Jack Abelhammer, and, at one point, she mistakenly sends him a suggestive message about blow jobs on the computer, which he manfully ignores.
 
Now, with a name like Jack Abelhammer, you may have dire presentiments of what’s to come. But No: Jack is apparently falling as sincerely and unselfishly in love with Kate as hubby Richard — though he may not be as willing to play housekeeper. (He‘d hire one. Maybe Oddjob in his declining years. Or Jonathan Pryce as a butler.)
 
*Problem Number Seven:
There’s a little weasel named Bunce (Seth Meyers) who’s angling for Kate’s job, and who says nasty thinks about her right on camera, right to us, just like that meanie Wendy. (On the other hand, Kate’s buddy Allison, played by Christina Hendricks, says good things about her on camera.) It’s okay though. We know this clown Bunce couldn’t replace Kate, even if they gave him her big lice scene, a date with Wendy, and all of Sarah Jessica Parker’s wardrobe — which is pretty amazing, even by “Sex and the City” standards.

 

Argument
So there we are. Talk about an impossible life. Talk about unsung heroes. Talk about the trials of Job! Whew! I just don’t know she does it, or how any married financial analyst or executive manages to get through the day without having a nervous breakdown.  I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t wish headaches like that on my worst enemy. (And we haven’t even talked about the lice attack or Kate’s botched power point presentation or Wendy‘s wisecracks about her pie.)
 
Luckily, Parker has weathered worse, for years, on TV. Working here in a movie adapted from the international bestseller by Allison Pearson, she rises to the occasion, though sometimes just barely. Parker’s persona on “Sex and the City” inevitably bleeds into her role here, which, from one angle could seem repetitious, and from another, just what the audience expects from a movie star. Anyway, wherever the movie goes, she remains a first-rate comedienne and world-class clothes horse who throws herself, Prada and soul, into her parts, and mostly gets what there is to get from them. In this case, that’s not always a lot.
 
I Don’t Know How She Does It is smart in some ways, silly in others, diverting in some ways, annoying in others. And it basically works, when it does, because of its cast, notably Parker and Olivia Munn as Momo, her icy assistant, who proves to have a heart of gold — or whatever it is G. Gordon Liddy sells these days on TV.
 
Everybody else is pretty good, but sort of forgettable. The direction, by Doug McGrath, who co-wrote Bullets Over Broadway, with Woody Allen, and directed Emma, starring Gwyneth Paltrow, is slick, but forgettable. The script, by career woman comedy specialist Aline Brosh McKenna (The Devil Wears Prada, 17 Dresses) is pretty slick too — but pretty forgettable.
 
I suppose I Don’t Know deserves credit for making a heroine out of a working mom. Take credit, guys! But — having had a working mother mysef, someone who worked at least twice as hard and twice as well (as an art teacher and draughtsman) as the people here, was twice as smart (I don’t know how she did it), was poorly paid and harassed at work by her (male and female) bosses, and who made brilliant art and brilliant jokes on a level these slick, slick, six-or-seven-figure characters could only vainly dream of, I wasn’t impressed. Not even by Carrie/Kate‘s wardrobe, another of the many things my beautiful working mother never had. (She never even had Kate’s balloons.)
 
Side Issue: His Girl Friday
Still, it’s nice to see a working gal movie that has His Girl Friday playing on somebody’s TV, as it does here on Kate‘s and Richard‘s, the Howard Hawks-Ben Hecht-Cary Grant-Rosalind Russell-Ralph Bellamy classic putting the younger movie around it to shame. But it’s not the actor’s fault; they just work here.
 
Recommendation
Save your money, until DVD time. A suggestion: Maybe the smart audience doesn’t want to see movies about gorgeous investment analysts and comical investment managers and studly moneymen, juggling their busy but cushy lives — unless they‘re financiers or aspiring financiers themselves, and their idol is Donald Trump, or Donald Trump‘s investment analyst. The dopey audience is probably at some other movie, maybe Shark Night 3D or Conan the Barbarian or The Smurfs. And they’re probably having a better time. and more power to them. Hell, I don’t know how they do it.

 
 

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“The core fear is what can happen to you, personally. Your body. That’s what horror films deal with, precisely. We are a very thin skin wrapped around a pumping heart and guts. At any given moment it can come down to that, be it diseases, or somebody’s assault, or war, or a car wreck. You could be reduced to the simple laws of physics and your body’s vulnerability. The edged weapon is the penultimate weapon to disclose that reality to you.”
~ Wes Craven, 1996, promoting Scream

MAMET
Well, that, to me, is always the trick of dramaturgy; theoretically, perfectly, what one wants to do is put the protagonist and the audience in exactly the same position. The main question in drama, the way I was taught, is always what does the protagonist want. That’s what drama is. It comes down to that. It’s not about theme, it’s not about ideas, it’s not about setting, but what the protagonist wants. What gives rise to the drama, what is the precipitating event, and how, at the end of the play, do we see that event culminated? Do we see the protagonist’s wishes fulfilled or absolutely frustrated? That’s the structure of drama. You break it down into three acts.

INTERVIEWER
Does this explain why your plays have so little exposition?

MAMET
Yes. People only speak to get something. If I say, Let me tell you a few things about myself, already your defenses go up; you go, Look, I wonder what he wants from me, because no one ever speaks except to obtain an objective. That’s the only reason anyone ever opens their mouth, onstage or offstage. They may use a language that seems revealing, but if so, it’s just coincidence, because what they’re trying to do is accomplish an objective… The question is where does the dramatist have to lead you? Answer: the place where he or she thinks the audience needs to be led. But what does the character think? Does the character need to convey that information? If the answer is no, then you’d better cut it out, because you aren’t putting the audience in the same position with the protagonist. You’re saying, in effect, Let’s stop the play. That’s what the narration is doing—stopping the play… It’s action, as Aristotle said. That’s all that it is—exactly what the person does. It’s not what they “think,” because we don’t know what they think. It’s not what they say. It’s what they do, what they’re physically trying to accomplish on the stage. Which is exactly the same way we understand a person’s character in life—not by what they say, but by what they do. Say someone came up to you and said, I’m glad to be your neighbor because I’m a very honest man. That’s my character. I’m honest, I like to do things, I’m forthright, I like to be clear about everything, I like to be concise. Well, you really don’t know anything about that guy’s character. Or the person is onstage, and the playwright has him or her make those same claims in several subtle or not-so-subtle ways, the audience will say, Oh yes, I understand their character now; now I understand that they are a character. But in fact you don’t understand anything. You just understand that they’re jabbering to try to convince you of something.
~ David Mamet

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