What feels modern about screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna’s version of the romantic comedy is that, as she explains it, “the women have goals that are not strictly speaking romantic.” When a young news producer in McKenna’s “Morning Glory” is transformed by a stunning dress, it is for a job interview, not a date. “The Devil Wears Prada” concludes with a reconciliation between the heroine and her boyfriend, but it is almost besides the point: the happy ending is delivered by a better job.
“I Don’t Know How She Does It,” which comes out in September, could be considered the third in a trilogy of McKenna work-love movies — a grouping that McKenna refers to as “the BlackBerry 3” because the women in them are forever clutching their phones or chucking them or eyeing them longingly or putting them in the freezer (the relationship maybe be put on ice, but only temporarily).
An adaptation of the best-selling novel by Allison Pearson, it’s a witty take on the juggling act performed by working mothers. The film’s trailer is wholly consistent with romantic-comedy tropes: a quick flash of a party heavy on pink décor; a shot of Sarah Jessica Parker, the film’s star, in a passionate clinch. Yes, there will be glamorous settings and a broad-shouldered Mr. Right, but the plot of the film, in which Parker plays a mother and a fund manager, turns on the thrill of work. McKenna makes romantic comedies in which the romance is not so much between a woman and the perfect man but a woman and the perfect career.
McKenna’s solution to romantic-comedy fatigue is not to ironize the genre or make fun of its characters’ (and therefore its audience’s) quests for fulfillment, but to give them what they want: a great guy and a great job, a happy family and professional success. In McKenna’s films, the protagonists are never left alone with their jobs — the choice is never presented so starkly in the first place. “I like to think that we’ve made some progress,” she said in a recent phone conversation. “That women don’t have to be punished that way.”
Unlike the book’s protagonist, the character played by Sarah Jessica Parker, in the movie "I Don't Know How She Does It," does not quit her job to take up a more modest career that will let her work three days a week or realize that her kids need her more than she needs to work at all. She decides instead to test the boundaries and carve out a better personal life while keeping her full-time job. (Another fantasy: Work-life balance, with no professional cost.)
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