A working mother in a sitcom world
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, Sep 16, 2011
As reported in Entertainment Weekly, actress Christina Applegate - who plays a harried working mother in the new sitcom "Up All Night" - made the producers swear off one of Hollywood's most excruciating parenting cliches: spit-up on her blouse. I mention this only because it would have been nice if Sarah Jessica Parker - who plays Kate, a harried working mother in the insipid, unfunny and cliche-ridden "I Don't Know How She Does It" - had held the filmmakers to a similar standard. Okay, maybe not exactly nice. The film is so bad it's hard to imagine anything saving it. But it might at least have been slightly less torturous to sit through.
Along with the offending spit-up-on-the-blouse joke (translated to pancake batter in screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna's adaptation of Allison Pearson's chick-lit bestseller), "I Don't Know How She Does It" strip-mines every last nugget from the mother lode of maternal movie comedy, including gags about head lice, bake-sale envy and morning sickness. That last one comes courtesy of Kate's assistant (Olivia Munn), who gets pregnant halfway through the film and spends the rest of the time retching. Always good for a laugh.
If you're a sitcom, circa 1975.
Come to think of it, the movie, which clocks in at a scant hour and a half, contains about as much actual material as a half-hour TV show. The balance of the story, which concerns Kate's efforts to juggle job, mothering and marriage (to Greg Kinnear's mortified-looking husband) in the midst of a high-stakes work assignment involving a hunky Pierce Brosnan, is padding.
Director Doug McGrath - who, shockingly enough, made the well-received 2006 Truman Capote biopic "Infamous" - over-stuffs the movie with gimmicks. Take out the loopy narration, intrusive on-screen pop-up text, time-wasting montages and faux documentary-style interviews with such supporting characters as Kate's babysitter (Jessica Szohr), her overachieving rival in the Mom Olympics (Busy Philipps) and a competitive work colleague (Seth Meyers), and you've got very little left.
Speaking of Meyers, any movie that makes the "Weekend Update" funnyman not just dull but also annoying is doing something wrong.
As it turns out, it's doing a lot of things wrong. In addition to across-the-board lame acting, "I Don't Know How She Does It" boasts a bizarre worldview that seems to simultaneously sympathize with the working mother - or at least to the caricature of one - and to demonize her. At one point toward the end of the film, Parker's Kate opines, in voice-over, that "trying to be a man is a waste of a woman," as though there were something inherently unfeminine about working outside the home.
It's not a sitcom circa 1975, after all, but circa 1955.
Contains some vulgar language and sexy talk.