We’ve all been there: You have a girlfriend, wife, kid sister, or some other member of the opposite sex to whom you owe a debt. She sat through The Expendables or the latest Transformers, and now you, sir, have to sit through the dreaded “Chick Flick.” Now, there’s nothing really wrong with “Chick Flicks.” Some are good, some are bad, but all of them were made with a specific audience in mind, and if you’re reading a series of articles called Chick Flicks for Dudes, the odds are pretty good that you aren’t in it.
For it is here, fellas, where we take a look at recent chick flicks or chick flicks of note that you might have to sit through, and give you a fair warning. Is it any good? Is there anything in it whatsoever for the male demographic? And why does it appeal to your lady friend, anyway? Get ready, boys, because we’re about to get started with the new Sarah Jessica Parker comedy, I Don’t Know How She Does It.
WHAT YOU’RE IN FOR:
I Don’t Know How She Does It is a comedy, not a romantic one, about a working mom played by Sarah Jessica Parker. The overarching theme of the film is that working mothers are amongst the hardest working people on the planet. Parker spends her time juggling her kids, her husband, and her job. That sounds pretty hard, but I Don’t Know How She Does It is obsessed with the minutia involved with that tightrope act, making it seem nearly impossible through sheer volume, in case you didn’t get it before. She doesn’t want her daughter to suffer the indignity of bringing a store-bought pie to the school bake sale, but she has to buy one anyway and works overtime to “distress” the pastry to make it look like she worked all night to make it. She navigates the already tricky waters of big finance at her day job, an environment that’s already hard on women in the first place, with constant pressures to put her family second for the sake of the company. And so forth.
Trouble strikes when both Sarah Jessica Parker and her husband, Greg Kinnear, both accept important work opportunities at the same time. Parker in particular has to spend a lot of time out of the city developing a major business deal with the hunky Pierce Brosnan, who seems to be falling in love with her. But the real drama, such as it is, derives from the dwindling appreciation of her family. It was hard enough spending time outside the home before the whole Brosnan thing, leaving the kids with the nanny (Parker is heartbroken that she misses her second child’s first haircut) and leaving her husband’s sexual needs unfulfilled and so forth, but once she breaks a promise to her daughter to build a snowman all hell breaks loose and she’s forced to decide once and for all where her priorities lie.
Director Douglas McGrath (who co-wrote Woody Allen’s Bullets Over Broadway) attempts to liven up this fairly straightforward concept with When Harry Met Sally-esque testimonials from supporting characters, and an Alfie-ish tendency for Parker to address the audience directly to explain her mindset as she struggles to make her very complicated lifestyle work, but it’s all just window dressing for a film about the perils of the daily grind.
IS IT ANY GOOD?
Ha… Haha… HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA…!
Let’s put demographics aside for a second. Whether you’re male or female, predisposed to liking chick flicks or otherwise, I Don’t Know How She Does It is a bad movie. Every joke, with maybe one exception, falls completely flat, and the plot is uninvolving. Sarah Jessica Parker does her Sarah Jessica Parker thing, which some people like, but every other female character in particular is either underused – Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks is barely in here – or not particularly funny. Olivia Munn appears as Parker’s workaholic assistant, but the film is too busy judging her to capitalize on what charisma she’s been able to exude in other projects.
Actually, the movie is uncomfortably judgmental as a whole. Lots of movies have an argument to make, but I Don’t Know How She Does It is so awkwardly constructed that it does its own message a disservice. The point, as revealed at the end, is that having a job and a family is okay as long as your family always – always – comes first, which alone some folks might take issue with on principle. But Parker’s family life, with the exception of the always likeable Kinnear, rarely seems worth her trouble. The film spends so much time showing how they hold her back and damage her personal goals in the business world that it never quite gets the message across that they’re actually of greater value to her, besides her obsessive preoccupation with caring for them. (Not a bad emotion, necessarily, but she happens to be obsessive about it.) Munn’s character has a pregnancy subplot that is obviously supposed to diffuse this notion, in which she learns the importance of motherhood, but it’s tacked on at best, and emphasizes the "You'll Know When You're A Mother" angle is of no help the people in the audience who, you know, aren't. The entire movie hinges on a concept they assume we'll appreciate in retrospect some day. Way to alienate us, guys.
What’s more, Parker’s dedication to her family never feels truly threatened, making the story drag along like a big... draggy-alongy... thing. Brosnan falls in love with Parker, not that we ever particularly understand why, but despite a general sense of flattery she never seems genuinely tempted to abandon her difficult current life in favor of a more enjoyable one with less responsibility, which would be an understandable and reasonable way to boost what little tension the film has to offer. Aside from a brief bowling match we never see our protagonist actually enjoy the increasingly regular amount of time she spends away from her daily routine. I suspect this was an effort to make her more likeable, but the result is that she errs so little that she's barely human.
WHAT’S IN IT FOR HER?
There’s a good chance I Don’t Know How She Does It will make your girlfriend change her mind about not having kids, since outside of a general sense of “mission accomplished” the actual joys of motherhood are kept at a distance from audience members of both sexes, and finally explained away in a “you’ll understand once you have kids” kind of message which is, at best, condescending. Remember when you were five and you asked your parents a reasonable question, only to be told “I’ll explain when you’re older?” This is just as aggravating.
The strangest thing about I Don’t Know How She Does It is that its target demographic – working mothers – may by the film’s own admission be too busy to even see it. At the screening I attended, a few of the older ladies smirked meaningfully at some of the frustrating daily travails Parker endured, but younger women (of which there were few) may not be at a place in their lives in which Parker’s character seems more empathetic than Olivia Munn’s, whose arguments against motherhood will probably resonate more clearly than Parker’s limp justifications for it. And if any young people in the audience do sympathize with her plight, they probably don’t have a big house and a nanny and a high paying job like Sarah does, so a certain degree of schadenfreude is natural. And maybe even sour grapes.
We suppose dyed-in-the-wool Sarah Jessica Parker fans - you know already if your girlfriend qualifies - might give the film a small thumbs up based on her charms, but that seems pretty unlikely to us given the otherwise awkward nature of this movie.
WHAT’S IN IT FOR YOU?
You know, a lot of chick flicks acknowledge that there are probably going to be a few men in the audience, some of them perhaps unwillingly, and tack on a few things to keep them distracted. Maybe a comic relief character who represents the stereotypically male mindset, or a couple of “bra and panties” shots from the more attractive female members of the cast. (Guy movies totally do this too. There’s a reason why Jason Statham takes off his shirt so much.) That being said, I Don’t Know How She Does It doesn’t care about you one way or the other. All the attractive female members of the cast are either demonized or underutilized (Seriously, why is Christina Hendricks even in this movie? She practically could have been added in post), and the stereotypically “male” character, played by Saturday Night Live’s Seth Meyers, is monstrously manipulative and sexist. The other guys are abstract personalities more than actual characters: Pierce plays the charming guy but forbidden guy, Greg plays the lovable but normal guy, and Kelsey Grammar basically plays Kelsey Grammar. Not much to root for, there. Combined with the sheer lack of suspense and the painfully unfunny attempts at humor, there’s only one conclusion to made: This movie hates you, dudes.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
I Don’t Know How She Does It is exactly the kind of movie you’re afraid your girlfriend will drag you to see. On the upside, she won’t enjoy it either, so if you can’t convince her to see something, anything else instead, at the very least it will be a bonding experience. Like going to war, or at least navigating the mall on Black Friday. And she’ll probably renew her birth control prescription for the next few years in advance, so that’s the upside. Probably the only upside. .