I Don’t Know How She Does It (But Who’s Asking?)

Released for over two weeks, the message of director Douglas McGrath’s latest film isn’t exactly current either. But we can be forgiven for initially stamping it “feminist” in line with the same critically acclaimed novel and blithely carrying on unaware of this label.

But let’s not be too harsh. For, in a way, a very small way, it does manage to raise some important (yet all-too-familiar) questions over the ongoing sexist debate. As the author (Allison Pearson) of the book told Radio Four, “it would be derogatory to call this [cinematic adaptation] a chick flick” as it “tackles important issues” surrounding a woman’s responsibility and chaotic response to work and family.

And certainly the main character Kate Reddy is played extremely convincingly by Sarah Jessica Parker, who juggles work, husband and children through a variety of methods. Reddy does, to a tiny extent, entertain briefly the notion of exploring “important issues”. For one, Reddy makes mental lists in her head of errands and tasks to do before sleeping, and desperately makes time for her demanding children amongst an impending promotion at work, which both serve as jarring reminders of the hectic schedule any upper-class, childcare-equipped, well-paid and married mother carries.

And herein lies the problem: an upper-class, childcare-equipped, well-paid and married mother.

Coupled with the scene in which she inaccurately portrays the apparent colossal imbalance of the sexes, it only gets worse. In one shot, Reddy is questioned by a male colleague as to her lateness at work, in which she rather indulgently explains to the camera that, for a man, lateness can be blamed on a faulty engine or bad traffic … but her only way out – as a woman – is to lie with the shaky (and in itself, ironically sexist) justification of a “mammogram”.

For a start, that excuse of a mammogram has shouldered her into her own corner, by suggesting that she can only be believed and excused by men through exploiting an almost exclusively female medical examination. (“As if women need to be excused by men?” we may also ask.) This scene just serves to reiterate the way in which she cannot see any way out of her situation other than using her own sexuality. And post-feminism this is not, forget it.

In fact, Reddy appears to rely on men far more than she lets on, and this does little to justify the “important issues” Pearson claims the story exercises, of female strength and resilience in an overwhelmingly patriarchal society. Hopelessly naive, Reddy is wonderfully unaware of Jack Abelhammer (Pierce Brosnan)’s advances. And despite being wined and dined (unbelievably, without noticing) whilst on a business vacation, her character continually soaks up the praise from her – surprise surprise – male boss.

And her best friend adds little to her already ambiguous feminist argument. One memorable anecdote of hers serves this argument well. As Allison Henderson (Christina Hendricks) breathlessly tells us that women are scorned upon, whilst men are made into heroes when leaving the office to see their children, she manages to imply that inequality is never going to change in the workplace.

Let’s go back to the book. To be honest, the fact that this script was originally written from the female perspective, with an eye in mind to set out to critique and change this reality, rightly sets up high expectations for the screen version.

But the reality is that we don’t really care what, let alone how, she does it.

It’s a shame such a great cast was wasted on a lack-lustre story which does absolutely nothing for the feminist cause, as we are unable to relate or sympathise with Reddy. And with just an 18% rating from Rotten Tomatoes, the combination of the upper-class lead and disillusioned minor characters contribute to the collective misrepresentation of apparent and explicit sexism around today.

So although things are changing for the better, the same cannot be said for this adaption. I Don’t Know How She Does It drags us back to years gone by and manages to visually undo all the progress being made thus far between men and women. So, although played by a great team, and with the rare joke thrown in for good measure, it’s unlikely anybody will remember this rather dated and strange take on affairs between the sexes today.

Thank goodness this story will stay comfortably in a fictional world of film.