This film takes the most wrenching and universal dilemma of family life and turns it into a sitcom-y love letter to Sarah Jessica Parker. Not the character she plays, the whippet-thin, stiletto-wearing financial whiz with the adorably mussed hair, but the actress herself, whose appeal as a performer continues to diminish in direct proportion to her increasing need to make us love her and expectation that we must. Carrie has been very bad for SJP.
Parker plays Kate Reddy (the names are thuddingly on the nose here), a Boston mom of two, married to an architect (winningly played by Greg Kinnear), and trying hard to cope with both the intensely competitive professionals at the office (Olivia Munn and “SNL’s” Seth Meyers play work-obsessed underminers) and the even more intensely competitive stay-at-home moms (one asks plaintively whether a birthday cake is made with organic flour and another sighs sweetly and explains that she just couldn’t allow anyone else to raise her children as she spends all day at the gym). These are cheap shot caricatures with little wit and less heart. If the film had a smidgen of sympathy for anyone else in the story or any convincing moment with Kate and her children when they were awake it would not ring so hollow. It’s hard to connect to a character who is feeling judged when her point of view is itself so petty and judgmental. Even Kate’s one friend (a dishy Christina Hendricks) cannot be permitted to be at Kate’s level. She’s a single working mother, so points off for her.
Kate and her husband both get their professional opportunities of a lifetime and shift into higher gear, missing their son’s first haircut and neglecting his delayed speech and a dangerous hole in the carpet on the stairs. Up all night making lists that never end, Kate promises everything to everyone and discovers that sometimes jugglers drop all the balls at once. Sometimes you get a call to fly out of town for a big meeting in the middle of Thanksgiving. And sometimes you get the message that your child has lice just as you walk into the big meeting. Infestation turns out to be just an opportunity to dish at the delousing salon with a friend (compare that to the more realistic hazmat treatment of the same problem in last year’s “The Change-Up”), another example of the gap between the way this film makes everything about Parker, I mean Kate.
I understand that motherhood seems fresh and new and unfairly not communicated about properly for each new generation of women who wonder how they got from the snarky authenticity of their post-college years to searching for a presentable outfit that (1) has no spills or spit-up on it and (2) fits (this is a problem grey-hound thin and beginning to look stringy SJP does not have). It will feel a bit stale to anyone who has either lived through it or seen any sitcom or family comedy of the last decade. Even the derided “Motherhood” with Uma Thurman felt more authentic than this. A mis-sent email with a crude joke? That’s so 2008. And when Kate’s colleague (Pierce Brosnan) starts signing his emails “XO” and, despite her denials, Kate just manages to keep all those balls in the air to the breathless admiration of even those who once failed to appreciate her, we can’t help feeling that we do know that in fact she doesn’t do it very well.