It's exhausting, but that's sort of the idea. I Don't Know How She Does It is an old-fashioned spin on the manic pace of motherhood for today's working woman.
With high unemployment and those of us still working too scared to say no to the boss, "juggling" has become not just the norm but positively blasé more than 20 years after Parenthood and Baby Boom.
The novelty here is that it's that Sex and the City conspicuous consumer, Sarah Jessica Parker, "discovering" what Allison Pearson's novel didn't exactly discover, either: Parents are perpetually overworked and over-committed.
Parker, cast so she could narrate in voiceover just as she did in Sex and the City, is Kate, the frazzled investment banker trying to keep her job and keep her kindergartner and 2-year-old happy and her working husband, Richard (Greg Kinnear), content. She travels. A lot. Kate is closing in on a big deal and has to win over a handsome upper-level manager (Pierce Brosnan). And that straw might be the one that breaks this mother camel's back.
She lies awake working on "the list" — birthday party plans, school bake sale obligations, home-repair arrangements.
"Number 3, Call Richard's mother. Number 4, Wax something. Anything."
The cute lines don't have a lot of snap to them. So to spark things up, the script and the director, Douglas McGrath (Infamous, Nicholas Nickleby), lean heavily on testimonials — the friends, colleagues and fellow moms who marvel, genuinely or sarcastically to the camera. "I don't know how she does it."
Christina Hendricks is the single-mom pal, Seth Meyers is a back-stabber at the office, Olivia Munn is the younger assistant who looks at Kate and vows: "never getting married, never having kids." Her assessment of Kate? "You're tired and always insufficiently groomed."
Jane Curtin shows up as the judgmental mother-in-law who can deliver withering condemnations with a smile: "If you had stayed home with Ben (her toddler), would he be talking by now?"
Busy Philipps makes a funny impression as a "mini-Martha Stewart" who has time for elaborate baking projects because she doesn't work, who "doesn't judge" the frazzled Kate and who is "interviewed" on a non-stop Stairmaster session at her gym.
Truthfully, the "mean mom" Martha Stewart clones play better on TV — in The New Adventures of Old Christine, for instance. The story's thesis has resonance: We're missing out on important things in our over-scheduled lives. But the idea that working moms feel the strain of achieving balance more than working dads is nothing new. And that's true of most everything in the movie. We've been here and done that, repeatedly, during the past 25 years or more.
Parker gamely plays the slapstick, the little wardrobe disasters that anybody with kids will recognize. But she's swimming against a riptide of a script, a movie that no endless voiceover, no cute testimonial and no number of freeze-frames — in which she stops the action to address the camera — can save.