Timing is everything. Allison Pearson’s pointedly comic novel about a frazzled working mother trying to juggle home, marriage and a high-pressure job in high finance in London, “I Don’t Know How She Does It,” was published in 2002.
One worldwide economic collapse later, the movie version seems like a relic from a bygone era.
Oh, look, it’s rich people in beautifully appointed houses and they’re worried that the nanny might not arrive on time for them to make important morning meetings at work.
That’s being meaner than necessary about this inert film adaptation of Pearson’s novel, directed by Douglas McGrath (“Emma”) and written by Aline Brosh McKenna (“Morning Glory”), but watching the film, one can’t help feeling like you’ve already seen all this too many times and that a bunch of talented, smart folks are just going through the motions.
Even epigrammatic lines, which provoked laugh-out-loud hoots when read in the book, seem forced and brittle when declaimed on screen.
In making the transition from page to multiplex, “I Don’t Know” has also crossed the Atlantic in its setting. The movie’s heroine, Kate (Sarah Jessica Parker), now lives in a tasteful, if toy-cluttered townhouse in Boston, where she works as an investment advisor designing financial products at the Beantown branch of a Wall Street firm.
Her husband (Greg Kinnear) is a journeyman architect (though he’s far nicer and more successful in the film than in the book) and the couple has two small children.
The plot, such as it is, involves Kate trying to launch a new investment fund, which means struggling to keep family life on track even as she makes frequent business trips to New York. In Manhattan, she regularly strategizes with an attractive and successful colleague (Pierce Brosnan), whose charms aren’t lost on her.
The movie is trying to show the delicate balancing act that working women everywhere engage in as they try to keep job, marriage, family life and sanity intact and functioning. It gets certain details right — child-inflicted food stains on one’s working wardrobe, passing off store-bought baked goods as homemade efforts for the school bake sale, that motherhood means making endless to-do lists, etc.
But don’t we see that every night of the week already on smart TV sitcoms like “Modern Family” and even reruns of “Roseanne”?
The film also unnecessarily regularly trots out a jarring storytelling device, having friends and colleagues talk directly to the camera about Kate. It’s as if they were in a reality show or a documentary. It doesn’t help that one pal (Christina Hendricks) is positioned in front of what appears to be a bookcase filled with legal volumes; initially, it seems as if she might be testifying in a deposition for a legal action involving Kate.
None of the major performers embarrass themselves here, but neither does anyone especially shine. Parker seems more strident and flailing than necessary, Kinnear floats through as if bemused that this is what his career has come to, and the always reliable Brosnan lets the edges of his eyes crinkle in detached amusement.
One wonders if a more accurate title would be, “I Don’t Know, and I Don’t Really Care, How She Does It.”