After receiving intense criticism for being too vapid or too one-sided, let alone the venom spit at SJP, not many flocked to see I Don’t Know How She Does It (IDKHSDI) in theaters. Which is a pity. The Hollywood story line diverges from the English novel it’s based on, creating a protagonist who is less conflicted in her marriage and instead more frazzled trying to hold it all together. Critics claim this was a mistake. I think it created an even more honest biography of the working mom.
Descriptions of the protagonist, Kate Reddy , played by Sarah Jessica Parker, range from insipid to self-absorbed. Complaints include the fact the story line doesn’t include in-depth development of secondary characters and their POV. Of course, the title of the movie is I Don’t Know How SHE Does It; not, I Don’t Know How They Do It. This is a glimpse into the overwhelming life of a working mom with a high-powered career. However, I would argue we do get a very good idea of Richard Reddy’s (Greg Kinnear) POV from the many interactions husband and wife have in the movie.
IDKHSDI was a great movie, it was also infuriating at times. The challenges of a woman out to “have it all,” as some would say, is illustrated in a whirlwind of kids’ parties, board meetings and stolen moments between husband and wife. Throughout the movie, SJP portrays a character who clearly is eternally thankful for all she has, a boss even tells her to stop saying “thank you.” Meanwhile, you never once hear Kinnear’s character utter thank you. He’s too busy complaining about the inconvenience of his wife’s success even while he attempts to develop his career by taking on a project which will result in a higher time commitment but less pay. In one scene, SJP promises again and again she will make things work, she will keep work and family organized, she tells Kinnear it will be fine. His reaction- he accuses her of yelling at him. Well, I would yell at his simpering ass, too. Where are his promises to make things work? Why doesn’t any of this career-family balance fall on his shoulders?
In fact, never at any point in the movie do you see Kinnear work to create solutions to a family with two hard working parents. Instead, working out the balance all falls on SJP. This story, as rewritten for Hollywood, is an attempt at a light-hearted view of the second shift, the big sell to career women of childbearing age of having it all. Except having it all means after you come home from a full day at work, you’re expected to then execute all household needs as if you haven’t just spent 10hrs outside the home, as a financial contributor to the household.
Finally, in the 11th hour, SJP bites back and lets Kinnear know he’s expected to contribute to raising his kids too, more than a paycheck and cutting the cake at parties. He writes a list. SJP’s character demands more flexibility in her work schedule from her boss… yeah, that seems balanced. I don’t think the critics had as much a problem with SJP or the screenplay as they had with the experience of having the second shift laid out before them, in all it’s messy and undeniable glory. In an environment where women’s rights come under fire every election year while at the same time we’re reminded of how much we have, how much we are allowed to do, in comparison to past generations, a film which quite blatantly suggests something is just not up to snuff has less than a prayer of being widely accepted.