Being the mother to a 2-year-old is like being a movie star without the critics, says Sarah Jessica Parker's Kate Reddy in I Don't Know How She Does It. These could be words from SJP herself, whose last cinematic foray Sex and the City 2 took a severe beating from movie journos last year.
This Americanised adaptation of Allison Pearson's bestseller is thankfully better than SATC2, yet with a strong cast and script from The Devil Wears Prada's Aline Brosh McKenna, you'd think higher ambitions might be on show. I Don't Know How She Does It is a fluffy, light-weight romantic comedy that sorely lacks the comedic snap of the aforementioned Prada and Sandra Bullock's The Proposal.
Parker's mother Kate works for a high-flying financial firm supporting her husband, architect Richard (Greg Kinnear) and their two young children. Juggling work and family leaves Kate permanently frazzled, and when her company strikes a new deal the heroine finds herself jetting back and forth across the country with Jack Abelhammer (Pierce Brosnan). Her closeness to the suave businessman (who reveals he's a widower over a Martini) puts her under further strain.
It's tough to empathise with Kate, who with her good job, home and husband deliberates the ways to improve her already cushy middle-class life. The prospect of an affair with Jack linger over the film, yet the filmmakers never push it far enough to make the will they-won't they infidelity a real dramatic crux.
I Don't Know How She Does It clumsily uses a talking heads conceit to get its point across, but it's a technique that jars somewhat as director Douglas McGrath drops the documentary aesthetic for the rest of the film. Some breaking-the-fourth wall from Parker also falls flat. Perhaps some advice from her husband Matthew Broderick, who mastered the to-camera schtick in Ferris Bueller, would have helped?
The supporting cast is well-stocked with familiar faces, although most get short shrift in the 89-minute running time. Mad Men's Christina Hendricks is the chief victim, present seemingly to deliver the film's final gag.
The Daily Show's Olivia Munn is the real find, though. As Kate's assistant Momo, her acerbic bon mots provoke some genuine laughs. Momo's unwavering devotion to her career and corporate drone appearance make her the most entertaining thing about this rickety comedy. Her declaration that an "XO" email or text sign-off translates to "enter me" is a particular highlight.
Despite the best efforts of Munn and the capable cast, I Don't Know How She Does It can barely sustain its fleeting duration because, deep down, all it really seems to be about is mastering the art of multitasking.