In "I Don’t Know How She Does It," Kate Reddy is the “she” in question — a fortysomething modern woman struggling to juggle the demands of motherhood and a high-pressure career.
Portrayed with an effortless verve by ever-affable Sarah Jessica Parker, the central character in Douglas McGrath’s comedy is easy to root for, even if the vehicle itself feels less than fresh and inspired.
Based on the bestselling 2002 debut novel by Allison Pearson, the film conjures up aspects of everything from "Bridget Jones’s Diary" (the book was originally set in London) to "Baby Boom," while playing safely within the well-established parameters of formulaic romantic comedies.
Still, thanks to Parker’s empathetic performance and the fine work of her top-notch supporting cast, the Weinstein Company release should prove relatable to female audiences of a certain age and stage whose comparatively carefree Carrie Bradshaw days are, alas, behind them.
Moving the setting to American soil, the screen version finds Parker’s Kate lying awake nights mentally composing her all-important lists when not dashing to her job at a Boston financial management firm or back home to tend to her two young children and her unemployed architect husband, Richard (Greg Kinnear).
But her carefully-honed balancing act is thrown off-kilter when a career-making new account means flying back and forth to New York, where she works closely with smooth exec Jack Abelhammer (reliable Pierce Brosnan) at the expense of being away from her resentful family.
So how does she do it?
As directed by McGrath ("Emma," "Infamous") and penned by Aline Brosh McKenna ("The Devil Wears Prada," "27 Dresses") with a lot of stopping to address the camera (a trait shared by several other cast members) and other tired, sitcom-y bits of business that would seem more at home on the small screen.
Fortunately McGrath ultimately moves beyond the shtick and keeps things moving at an agreeable pace, relying on his talented ensemble to capably close the deal.
Whether she’s frantically trying to pass off a deli-purchased cherry pie as homemade for her daughter’s kindergarten bake sale or discovering she’s suffering from an unpleasant attack of head lice at an inopportune moment, Parker makes unforced, amusing work out of the physical comedy while convincingly relaying Kate’s heavier, more introspective dilemmas.
As the professional/personal men in her life, Brosnan and Kinnear also do an effective job of underplaying their respective characters, maintaining a nice vulnerability; while Olivia Munn handily steals most of her scenes as Kate’s coldly officious junior assistant, Momo.