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‘I Don’t Know How She Does it’

The trouble is we don't care how she does it

by Kaori Shoji

Here’s what I hope is a dusty, totally passe concept: the supermom. You know, those women who juggle a million tasks before 8 a.m., then go for a 10 km jog, then strap their kids into hybrid SUV car seats, check them into day care and depart for an important, high-paying career in the finance sector. At night, they cuddle up with their equally successful husband on their Cassina sofa, sipping wine and discussing the high points of the day. That mode went out with strawberry frappuccinos, right?

Call me crazy, but the mere recounting of a supermom living her life in that awesome supermom way causes a panic attack whereupon I must collapse on my sagging, ancient Ikea sofa with a stiff drink. Supermoms. As Woody Allen once said: “I don’t want to hear that word! Don’t mention that while I’m in the building!”

The deeply regrettable thing about being a film critic is that once in a while, I come up against an entire movie about supermoms and must write about it. “I Don’t Know How She Does it” is the title of this yay-for-supermoms tale, and at this point there’s a voice in the back of my mind that says, “I really don’t give a hoot how she does it.” Most working mothers hardly have the time to wonder what supermoms are doing or how they’re doing it, because it’s all we could do to sludge from day to day without the megaton burden of doing it all and looking great too. Yes, sludge. That’s a word.

“I Don’t Know How She Does it” is directed by Douglas McGrath (another snag; what would a man know about the work-mother-career-marriage-self-maintenance balance, huh?), best known for “Company Man” and “Emma,” and he’s tailored this movie so that it recalls a Hallmark Mother’s Day card — the expensive kind with good, thick paper and a popout thingie. I can see the inscription in my mind: “You’re beautiful and amazing and we’re so lucky to have you in our family!” I can see the candlelit dinner the husband takes her to, while a babysitter stays at home with the kids. I can almost believe he booked a table at Chez Panisse.

Who better to play this amazing mom/wife than Sarah Jessica Parker, aka the thinnest woman in Manhattan with an iron grip on all things good in life (men, career, apartment, skinny jeans, shoes) in the “Sex and the City” franchise. I have a soft spot for SJP — after all, she taught us to combine raggedy T-shirts with flouncy tutus. She showed us that a woman is never too old for a wedding dress, even if she happens to be 42.

Above all, she taught us to never give up, anything. Ever. And in “I Don’t Know How She Does it” (adapted from a much-talked-about best-seller by Allison Pearson), SJP plays Kate Reddy, a hedge-fund manager and mother of two adorable tykes, married to nice-guy architect Richard (Greg Kinnear), who is one of those impossible fantasy dads who willingly make dinner, change diapers and say “I love you” all the time. Apparently, this is where never giving up can take you.

There’s a reason why Kate is played by SJP, and not, say, Nicole Kidman: a sliver of ditziness in her like whipped cream in a layer cake, making her supermom portrayal that much easier on the palate. Clearly McGrath has no wish to offend any working mothers by making insinuations (intended or otherwise) about perfect motherhood in the 21st century. SJP is one of the most likable human beings on the planet, and he banks on that likability — he hangs the whole movie on it.

So Kate is a little vulnerable, a little sloppy, a little more inclined to panic when informed that there’s been an outbreak of lice at her kids’ school. Suddenly, Kate is scratching at her scalp with the urgency of a gorilla, and just when you’re wondering whether this is going to morph into a horror movie (not a bad idea), she learns it was a false alarm. Whew.

Such comedic moments, however, do little to dispel the pressure. There’s Kate, juggling nine different currencies in five different time zones, in an immaculate suit and heels from Miu Miu. There’s her Boston brownstone, a huge mansion in a lovely neighborhood. There’s that adoring husband of hers. She even has a gorgeous, understanding boss who looks exactly like Pierce Brosnan. Not that I’m eaten up with jealousy or anything. Just lead me to the nearest sagging sofa, and we’ll call it even.