Think of Sarah Jessica Parker, and her performance as Carrie Bradshaw in the “Sex and the City” TV show and movies likely comes to mind. After all, she became a pop culture icon playing a high-living New York City single gal who made a pact with her three best friends to sleep around just like men without addressing the emotional or physical consequences.
Oddly, by the time the series ended its six-year run on HBO, three of the four women had either gotten married or engaged, and the fourth had settled into a happy, monogamous relationship. The first “SATC” movie continued these nesting themes, though I (like most movie goers) didn’t bother to check out the second film.
“SATC” wound up contradicting its founding premise by showing that these women found happiness when they decided to settle down with a man and possibly start a family. And now, Parker has surprised us once again with “I Don’t Know How She Does It,” which puts her in a similar role but with some key twists. She’s still a high-flying, big city gal (Boston, not the Big Apple), but she’s happily married to an architect with two kids.
While the couple does rely on a part-time nanny, the film still paints a believable picture of the extra struggles women like Parker’s Kate character face in the workforce, most humorously depicted by a smug co-worker (“SNL” veteran Seth Meyers) eager to steal credit for Kate’s ideas. But the movie is a Hollywood rarity in that it depicts banking and finance as a noble and positive field to be in, detailing how Kate’s work can help restore the retirement savings of millions of Americans wiped out by the recession.
The main thrust of the film covers the extra plate-spinning that occurs when Kate gets a chance to propose a new system of retirement planning to a titan of finance named Jack Abelhammer (Pierce Brosnan). Here again, the film surprises on multiple fronts. Kate appropriately handles the affection Jack develops toward her during their grueling work schedule together. Jack long ago chose his career over family after losing his wife to cancer, but he finds Kate’s devotion to her own brood enchanting.
In short, he’s far from the caricature one might expect of a big roller.
Not only is Abelhammer depicted as a genuinely decent human being who uses capitalism in a positive way, Kate’s boss (Kelsey Grammer) turns out to respect Kate when she stands up for her right to say “no” to work and “yes” to her family.
*** Mild Spoilers Ahead ***
Most surprising is a subplot in which Kate’s assistant (Olivia Munn) reveals she’s pregnant after insisting she would never have kids. As she tells Kate, “don’t worry, I’m taking care of it,” implying abortion, Kate begs her to reconsider, delivering an impassioned spiel about the joys children bring and how they outweigh the struggles and messiness.
Guess who winds up as a mom by the end?
Unfortunately “I Don’t Know” is already dead in the water as one of the year’s biggest box-office bombs, having made only $8 million at the box office after two weekends. One can analyze why it failed – horrible posters that just showed the title without any film images or even Parker’s name being a major culprit.
Or, perhaps the women who rolled with Carrie Bradshaw are too busy being real-world Kates and don’t have time to check out a movie while they’re running their own dual lives. The family values people may have feared the film was a virtual “Sex and the City 3” and stayed home, while “SATC” fans wanted to write this off for embracing capitalism, stable marriages and even unborn babies.
I walked in on a “I Don’t Know How She Does It” screening at the last-minute, having ridden L.A. mass transit for over 90 minutes from Pasadena to Beverly Hills at the end of a long Monday. I was expecting just another chick flick and as a single guy didn’t relate to the movie’s core themes.
Yet it won me over, thoroughly. I smiled and laughed from start to finish, admired its positive portrayal of the best things that American life has to offer, and was refreshed by the wonderful craftsmanship that went into the film.
By the looks of things, the movie will be on DVD shelves or On Demand within a few months. It’s certainly worth a look for more than just an entertaining two hours. Hollywood won’t keep showing positive looks at families and capitalism if no one sees them.