When I first got wind of the movie "I Dont Know How She Does It" about the conventional theme of women having it all, I confess what went through my mind was I Dont Know Why She Wants To.
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In the interest of full disclosure, I am more in the Elizabeth Gilbert camp as she describes herself in her book, Committed: & a childless woman in the waning years of her fertility & who ha[s] not one smidgen of interest whatsoever in becoming a mother ...
But I am surrounded by women I love who are mothers working outside the home and not and I greatly respect the work of Sarah Jessica Parker, so I decided to give the movie a whirl. Besides, as a life coach, part of my work with clients is about life balance, and Im always open to broadening my perspective for their benefit as well as my own.
The movie, based on the novel of the same name by Allison Pearson, is a delight. Aside from my dismay that jokes about Xanax and Ambien are now part of the American lexicon, the movie hit just the right note in blending humor and a meaningful message. The nuanced main character, Kate Reddy played by Parker is earnest and relatable as she navigates life in the financial world and the home front with a husband (the eminently likable Greg Kinnear) and two small children. As the story unfolds, its all about the incessant juggling and the guilt that goes with it, and then ultimately it is about compromise and love.
After a screening of the movie at Scandinavia House in New York in a theatre filled with mostly women, there was a Q&A with Parker and Pearson (joined onstage by members of one of the events sponsors, Moms & the City) that lasted over an hour. I got the sense it could have gone long into the night, such was the palpable desire for women in the room to feel solidarity and seek answers.
I think I arrived at choices probably the same way that most working women do, which is that Im still excited and challenged by the possibilities outside of my home, said Parker, who was wholly accessible and admirably vocal about opening up the discussion to the entire room. Its the way I came to being a parent. I arrived as a parent as a working person, so this is what my son knew about me right away. Every house kind of is its own special symphony.
A beautifully articulated way of saying everyone has choices to make and conflicts to resolve, but along the way there is sweet music if we stop to listen. And in the mix are those who didnt choose the same path. One audience member touched on that, asking, Can you keep the friends that dont have the same kind of life that you do?
I covet those friends, Parker said. I relish those friendships & Theres so much I get from them, theres so much I learn. Theyre such a source of comfort. They always have their ear to the ground ... Theyre like a fairy godmother. I hope what I provide for them is something equally important.
It is somewhere in there, the assessing of each others choices, that we can go from rock-solid supportive to sharply critical. As an objective outsider, I see mothers are so often the best cheerleaders for other mothers, but they are also the most cruel and judgmental of each other. This is brought out in I Dont Know How She Does It via the supporting characters. (Spoiler alert for what follows).
There is stay-at-home mother Wendy Busy Phillips is wickedly spot-on in the role who actually doesnt stay home at all but spends the bulk of the day looking impeccable at the gym. The prima donna snob character works marvelously for comedy/conflict purposes, but shes also a bit of a slap in the face to stay-at-home mothers who actually work hard nurturing a stable and loving home.
Whats lovely about Parkers character, Kate, is that her judgmental leans more toward self deprecation than caustic daggers thrown at other mothers. Truly, she doesnt have time to dwell in dish sessions about her own superior parenting. Shes too busy trying to make it all work without anything suffering.
Kate is, in fact, so pulled in all directions that one member of the audience stood up during the Q&A and said as a young, single woman the movie terrified and intimidated her. The energy in the room lifted and several women shared their own stories to quell her fears.
Christina Hendricks is witty as Allison, a single working mother and ally for Kate. The men she works with -- nicely cast with Seth Meyers, Kelsey Grammer and Pierce Brosnan -- are of different stripes and help give a real look inside the corporate dynamic. (Plus, well, we find out that Brosnan looks dashingly smooth even when hes bowling.)
And then there is Momo, Kates almost robotic, child-phobic junior colleague compellingly played by Olivia Munn.
According to the films production notes, Munn said, Momo is not a girl who grew up dreaming of babies and husbands and picket fences & She doesnt want anything to impede her forward momentum.
Indeed. Yet, over the course of the 91-minute movie, she implausibly goes from hard edged to squishy soft when she winds up having a baby. This is the same woman who declares early in the film that she had to flush a goldfish that kept looking at her with feed me, feed me pleas through the glass. Frankly, I would have liked Momo to show us the possibilities for joy that exist outside of parenthood, but then, maybe this one isnt supposed to be my movie in the larger sense. It is, deservedly, a salve for the mothers working so hard to have it all.
One such mother, Nichelle Pace, expressed during the course of the Q&A discussion her strong desire to go on a girls trip to an island for her 40th birthday, but that she is a single mother and some of her married friends were hesitant about getting away; she drew a lot of support in the room. At the end of the event, there was a drawing for an American Express-sponsored trip to Turks and Caicos and everyone broke out into gleeful applause when Paces business card was picked from the bowl by a stunned and delighted Parker. Talk about manifesting.
It was a wonderful moment of solidarity and love that transcended the questioning of choices, the expressions of guilt and all the wondering that goes with trying to have it all.
Its not simple, Pearson said. Theres no one answer. I hope the film is a great plea for more flexibility.
Nancy Colasurdo is a practicing life coach and freelance writer. Her Web site is www.nancola.com and you can follow her on Twitter @nancola. Please direct all questions/comments to FOXGamePlan@gmail.com.