In Her Shoes
The opening credits of In Her Shoes play over "Stupid Girl" (which is still stuck in my head). Garbage is an unusual choice for a film like this, and one that captures the strength of this film: it's an average story made notable by consistently excellent choices.
As noted during the introduction of the film, In Her Shoes is not the project that springs to mind when one thinks of Curtis Hansen (who made the fantastic L.A. Confidential). Because Hansen found relevance and importance in the questions presented in the script, his engagement with the characters brought a level of sincerity and attention not often found in works in this genre (which I would describe as a comedic family drama).
Based on the novel by Jennifer Weiner, the story involves two sisters, the plain 'smart one' Rose (Toni Collette), and the sexy blond 'dumb one' Maggie (Cameron Diaz), whose mentally unstable mother died during their childhood. One is hard working (guess who) and the other can't hold down a job and relies on her looks to get by; the only thing the sisters seem to share is shoe size.
Maggie is kicked out of her parents' house by their evil step-mother (who constantly kvells about her own daughter), and responsible Rose must take her in. Thoughtless Maggie seduces Rose's boss (who Rose had slept with the night previous) and she walks in on them. Rose reaches breaking point, and demands that Maggie get out. Maggie, with nowhere left to go, rifles through her drawers at her dad's house looking for cash. While searching stumbles across old cards and letters from a grandmother she didn't know she had hidden in her dad's desk, conveniently still sealed in the envelopes with a clearly labeled return address.
Maggie decides to visit her mysterious grandmother Ella (Shirley MacLaine) in Miami. While she's out of the picture, Rose takes time of from lawyering to walk dogs, and begins a relationship with Simon (Mark Feuerstein, who you might recognize from short-run sitcoms like 'Good Morning Miami' or 'Conrad Bloom', or possibly not). Simon is perfect, and they eventually get engaged, but Rose is increasingly troubled by her sister's disappearance. Meanwhile, Ella and her quirky friends at the active old people's residence are busy teaching Maggie a thing or two about life, responsibility, and how to read poetry despite her dyslexia.
There is nothing particularly original in this plot, and there are weaknesses in the script that temper the success of the film, however, as I mentioned before, the whole project is made better under Hansen's eyes. This could have very easily been another forgettable chick flick, and in other hands probably would have been.
Stereotypes abound in this film, and Hansen's careful casting mitigates this - he selects actors who bring charm and quirkiness to roles that doubtless fall flat on the page. Francine Beers in particular is knowing and adorable as Ella's sharp-tongued best friend Mrs Lefkowitz. Diaz, Collette and MacLaine bring gravitas to essentially simple characters, giving their family conflicts an edgier, more realistic feel and hint at greater complexity and depth in the roles.
Unfortunately the male characters don't quite fare so well. Simon is given no characteristics other than the boyfriend every girl wishes they had - he's kind, considerate, attentive, sensitive, emotional, cute and a successful lawyer. Conflict arises between he and Rose because she's not being completely honest with him. He's not an individual, he's a list, though Feuerstein gives Simon the kind of Jew-next-door appeal Charlotte and Miranda's boyfriends tended to in Sex and the City. Richard Burgi as Rose's insensitive boss could easily have been cribbed from Daniel Cleaver in Bridget Jones' Diary, except that he's granted a reprieve from total caddishness in a scene where he confesses he was a fat kid.
Hansen never allows these weaker elements to overwhelm the film. He focuses his attention on his actresses and the threads of the story that complicate the surface stereotypes. During the scenes where Rose and Maggie argue, I found myself thinking of my relationship with my own sister. When Maggie begins to grow and change, you find yourself pulling for her, rather than waiting expectantly for the inevitable conclusion. And when resolution arrives, tying up all the loose ends, was I rolling my eyes at the schmaltz? No. To be honest, I was a little ver klempt.
Is this film going to change your life? Probably not. And I doubt it will be a contender for any awards (though Shirley MacLaine might pull a best supporting from somewhere). However, if you're looking for something a little more intelligent than the average chick flick, something you can watch with your sister or your boyfriend or your mom, this is a film you need to check out. You get to feel all warm and fuzzy inside without that slimy after-taste that comes from phone-commercial level cheese.
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