Sarah Jessica Parker’s hands traumatized me: “I Don’t Know How She Does It”September 19, 2011
There are so many things wrong with I Don’t Know How She Does It, the filmed adaptation of Allison Pearson’s novel, it tough to know precisely where to begin. But then I had an experience at breakfast that made it all clear. See, I was having breakfast/brunch at my favorite Irish Pub—the place where I can get a decent eggs-and-bacon breakfast while pretty Thai waitresses endlessly refill my coffee and generally coo and fuss over me. Only there was some kind of a rugby or soccer game on and I found myself surrounded by foul-mouthed limeys screaming at the TV. Now ill-behaved Brits and Aussies aren’t a big shock around these parts—they’re as common as hypertension is in Midwest—but what really pushed me to the brink were their screaming, wailing children who ran around the floor while mom and dad cheered dudes on TV with silly names. It occurred to me that if I suddenly beat everyone senseless with my chair I’d be considered the bad guy. Because no matter how horrific your children are, the mere fact you have them makes you something akin to Mother Theresa in the eyes of society. And IDKHSDI not-so-quietly reinforces that idea.
Yeah, there are a lot of problems with this movie, but that’s the one that really got me. Look, I don’t mind a movie (supposedly) about the stresses of being a modern wife/mother/career woman, but it annoys the hell out me when said movie refuses to even entertain the notion that maybe someone somewhere might regard the prospect of parenthood as being just slightly less appealing than being shot in the face with a Black Talon slug. But, no, this movie really operates as a propaganda piece for parenthood. Thanks, but I’ll take the Black Talon.
So, yeah, the veneer-thin plot is about Kate Reddy, a happily-married Boston mother of two and high-powered corporate finance type, and this particularly rough patch she hit when work got especially stressful. Apparently some idea she had about a fund or something got some attention from the head office and she had to work a lot with Pierce Brosnan in New York. So she spends a couple months commuting to and from New York, glued to her Blackberry, and somewhat neglecting her husband Richard (Greg Kinnear) and kids. Well, this is apparently very traumatic for her, but everything works out in the end, so don’t worry.
Okay, what is wrong with this film? Try this…
Income: So, Kate is a big financial muckity-muck. Yet, every heated discussion she and Richard have about her job conspicuously avoids the question of money. As in, How will we afford our luxurious urban Boston lifestyle without it? Richard is starting a business, which places a financial strain on them (what business he’s in is conspicuously never made clear). Still, the issue of how they can manage without her income—or a much-reduced income—just doesn’t exist in this world.
Income (2): Kate’s nemesises (nemesi?) are a couple of seemingly too-perfect moms (Busy Philips and Sarah Shahi–mmmmm…Sarah Shahi…er, um, what is my name again?) who bake perfect cakes for the bake sale, make every school meeting, spend hours in the gym maintaining their slammin’ bods, and throw extravagant birthday parties. Yet, again, the issue of money is never raised. How do these women do it? Well, obviously they have truckloads of cash to thrown around. They’re not more organized, more driven, or more maternal, no they simply have more money to afford the things that most parents don’t—including time.
Momo Hahn: Played by the (simply stunning) Olivia Munn as a gem-hard corporate warrior, Momo is Kate’s assistant and her polar opposite. She is driven, focused, and intense. Yet, set against Kate’s rambling, distracted, unkempt harried mom, it’s impossible to ask, which of these women would you want managing your money? Well, Momo regards parenthood about the same I do, and this could have been a welcome avenue to explore—Momo as possessed of everything that Kate has given up for a family—is it enviable?—But no, Momo must be shown the light by getting pregnant midway through the film. Of course this is the second decade of the new millennium, so the concept of an abortion is nixed—don’t want all those Bachman/Perry/Palin supporters torching their multiplexes, do we?—but, man, she doesn’t even consider adoption. In this movie you are Kate or you are a Kate-in-waiting. There is no other option.
Jane Curtain: She plays Kate’s mother-in-law, who delivers a barbed speech about how much easier parenthood was in her day, when the man raised the money and the women raised the kids. Okay, forget about the social and economic realities that the movie ignores, we remember Jane when she was, well, younger than Kate and she was helping make Saturday Night Live a legend. That was the ‘70s, back when plenty of mothers worked. Hey, movie, she’s a solid generation after the Leave it to Beaver past you’re recalling.
Sarah Jessica Parker: Okay, I know I’m gonna sound mean-spirited and shallow by saying this, but she really looks awful in this movie. She is pushing 50 and looks every inch of it—pinched, brittle, and holy crap! Her hands are terrifying!!!! Yeah, I know this is Hollywood, but c’mon, we’re supposed to believe that Pierce Brosnan falls ass over teakettle for her? He looks like an older James Bond. SJP looks like the evil lesbian headmistress in a sorority-slasher flick. I’m sorry, but if we’re going to get all (righteously) worked up over movies that pair Kevin James with Rosario Dawson, then I’m also going to reject this pairing. The only credible part of the film is when he ends up with Christina Hendricks—who is so delightful and endearing she should have been the headliner here.
But beyond that, the movie really plays out like a vanity project. SJP’s Kate is great at her job, and a good mom, who never gets angry with her kids or needs to discipline them. In the movie’s climax, she delivers not one, not two, but three—count ‘em three—impassioned monologues about how important her family is to her. You know, lest we not understand that she is the center of the Universe.
Sarah Jessica Parker’s hands: Yeah, I know I mentioned this already, but I feel I need to revisit the topic. Jesus fuck, they’re horrifying! They’re massive. They’re gnarled and veiny and claw-like. She doesn’t have man-hands, she has coal-miner-man’s hands. She has bare-knuckled-street-brawler-man’s hands. She has Victorian-London-dockworker-man’s-hands. I saw this movie yesterday and those hands have haunted my waking nightmares ever since. I feel like if I made a wish on one of them my dead son would start pounding on the door.
The economy: And this one really honks me off. Kate frets about what a lousy mother she is because she didn’t bake a pie for a bake sale, missed her youngest’s first haircut, and didn’t make snow angels with her daughter. Really? That’s it? Really? As our recession teeters on the brink of a depression, families are working multiple jobs (if they can get them) just to make ends meet. You can bet they’re sacrificing a hell of a lot more than snow angels. Meanwhile, Kate’s family lives in an elegantly appointed brownstone in an expensive city and has a nanny. When they pack up to head out to the grandparent’s house, they stuff one year’s college tuition-worth of crap in the back of it. And we’re supposed to work up some sympathy for the fact she didn’t bake a freaking pie?
This movie is…well, it’s just bad. There is nothing good about it. Except Olivia Munn, who I am now in love with (Sorry, Maggie Q, but you had your chance) And—seriously, I cannot emphasize this enough—Sarah Jessica Parker’s hands are like a hideous Boschian fever-dream.