Thursday Trailer Face-Off! A Little Help vs. I Don’t Know How She Does It

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Published June 16, 2011

 

 

 

 

Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: A Little Help vs. I Don’t Know How She Does It, two comedic-dramatic takes on the travails of the working mom, starring actresses who will probably always be best-known for their iconic TV roles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PremiseIn A Little Help, Jenna Fischer plays Laura, a dental hygienist whose husband, Bob (Chris O’Donnell), is cheating on her. But then Bob dies, and leaves Laura and her son with nothing. Following Bob’s death, Laura has a lot to deal with: the well-intentioned sympathies of friends who didn’t know Bob was a jerk; the parrot in the dentist’s office; her relationship with her 12-year-old-son, Dennis. And there seems to be some kind of new guy in the picture, who had a crush on adolescent Laura. Isn’t there always? As for I Don’t Know How She Does It, Sarah Jessica Parker plays breadwinning career woman Kate Reddy, a finance executive who’s struggling with the work-life balance: because she’s so busy at work, she’s missing stuff like her son’s first haircut; because she tries to be a good mom, she shows up late to work. And now there’s a hunky new guy (Pierce Brosnan) at work who might tempt her away from her husband, Richard (Greg Kinnear)! What’s a lady to do? Well, we’re pretty sure that in the versions of this plot we’ve seen play out countless times before, the lady chose her family and the money stuff just magically worked out. A Little Help gets points because we don’t know what’s coming. Advantage: A Little Help

LeadBoth films feature women who will forever be associated with one iconic TV role—and you’re well aware that we mean Fischer’s Pam Beesly on The Office and Parker’s Carrie Bradshaw on Sex and the City, respectively. If we’re judging which is a bigger star, it’d have to be Parker: the Sex and the City movie and (shudder) its sequel were big box-office hits, and she’s anchored quite a few other films over the last 30(!) years. Let us not forget her in Footloose, and let us forgive her for Dudley Do-Right. She’s genuine A-list. Fischer’s career so far has been a lot shorter, and has included movies like Employee of the Month and Blades of Glory, which, you know, gulp. However, we also want to examine what the film in question does for the actress’s range. As Daily Intel points out, there’s a lot in the I Don’t Know How She Does It trailer that smacks of Sex and the City: the narration, the gratuitous B-roll of skyscrapers, the kicky work ensembles. Fischer’s character in A Little Help, by contrast, does seem like it might advance her career a bit in a non-Pam direction: we can’t imagine meek Pam yelling “You suck, too!” at her son. Advantage: Draw

CastBesides Fischer and O’Donnell, plus Felicity‘s Rob Benedict in the new-guy role, A Little Help doesn’t have much in the way of big-name stars: Daniel Yelsky (Meet Monica Velour) plays the kid; and it also features Lesley Ann Warren (In Plain Sight) and Aida Turturro (Sleepers).  I Don’t Know How She Does It definitely wins this one, with Parker, Kinnear, Brosnan, Christina Hendricks, Seth Meyers, Olivia Munn, Jane Curtin, Jessica Szohr, and Busy Philipps. We were going to take off points for the inclusion of Kelsey Grammer, whom we’ve come to hate, but he appears to be playing an arrogant blowhard—we can’t begrudge that. Advantage: I Don’t Know How She Does It

Writer/DirectorI Don’t Know How She Does It is based on a novel by Allison Pearson, a British journalist and author, former Daily Mail columnist, and (fun fact!) longtime partner of New Yorker film critic Anthony Lane. Its screenplay was written by chick-flick powerhouse Aline Brosh McKenna, who penned the scripts for The Devil Wears Prada, 27 Dresses, Morning Glory, and the upcoming sure-to-be-huge We Bought a Zoo. And its director, Douglas McGrath, is a former Saturday Night Live writer who’s since directed five features, including the adorable Gwyneth Paltrow version of Emma. That’s a tough trifecta to top, and Michael J. Weithorn, the writer-director of A Little Help, can’t do it alone: this is his first feature; his experience so far has been in TV, with lots of writing and producing and some directing for shows including Family Ties, Ned and Stacey, and The King of Queens. Advantage: I Don’t Know How She Does It

Domestic AnnoyancesIn A Little Help, it’s really easy to understand why Laura becomes frustrated with her son: he’s kind of a little brat sometimes, in exactly the way that all 12-year-old boys are kind of little brats sometimes. Even when she tries to be a cool mom—asking him “how was it” when he tells her he saw a girl’s boob at camp, singing in the car—he is mortified, as he well should be. And her husband’s kind of a little brat, too! “You got me, Columbo! You’re brilliant!” he yells at her when she confronts him about the cheating. Come on, guy. By contrast, we actually barely see Kate’s kids in the I Don’t Know How She Does It trailer (which, we’re led to believe, makes us a lot like Kate!). There’s a glimpse of little Emily’s back, a second or two of Ben’s face—but the kids don’t even speak. As for the marital discord, Richard seems upset that Kate works so much, but she can cure him of his anger using her magical sex powers. Because that’s all it takes, ladies? A Little Help rings a lot more true. Advantage: A Little Help

LaughsWe have to give I Don’t Know How She Does It credit for a quick joke that really sums up the gender wars at work: Seth Meyers’ character tries to give Kate credit for maintaining her career despite having “all those” children—”so impressive!” When she points out that she only has two, and he has four, he brushes it off: “Two of mine are twins.” That’s a genuine chuckle, and we also loved the moment when a pampered housewife played by Busy Philipps tells Kate, “I’m so jealous, you get to look nice all day—we just frump around at the park!” (Why doesn’t Busy Philipps star in everything, always?) But overall, the humor in A Little Help is fresher: everything from 0:57 to 1:14, when Laura realizes that Dennis has been lying and saying his dad died in 9/11, manages to be the first 9/11-based joke we’ve heard and not found totally reprehensible. Quite a feat! Advantage: A Little Help

The VerdictWe want to be clear here: there is absolutely nothing wrong with going to see a high-production-budget, aspirationally-costumed Sarah Jessica Parker chick flick in order to temporarily fill the gaping hole Sex and the City has left in your, and every woman’s life, since going off the air. (At least that’s what the magazine articles that still reference the show as a touchtone of female culture, a decade later, would have us believe.) I Don’t Know How She Does It will probably be funny sometimes and maybe touching at the end, or something, and that’s great! But we feel like we have to pull for the underdog here: we want to see Jenna Fischer become a star in her own right, and we think there might be some pleasant surprises in her movie. Winner: A Little Help