The crazy, irresponsible sibling paired with the stable, reliable sibling is as predictable a Hollywood character duo as the immature, free-spirited parent paired with the precocious, overly serious child. Or the hotheaded, young rookie partnered with the gruff, about-to-retire cop. Or ... well, you get the idea. Despite the cliché at its heart, the new comedy/drama In Her Shoes does workmanlike duty, finding appealing actors to fill the roles and a witty, emotion-soaked hankie of a script from which they can work.
The film is based, as some undoubtedly know, on author Jennifer Weiner's best-selling novel of the same name. (Fans should also note that a version of her book Bee Season will hit theaters next month.) Though derisively lumped into the “chick lit” category alongside Bridget Jones's Diary and countless others, it's reasonable to assume that these novels have been--and their film translations can be--enjoyed by people who have never even seen “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” Myself included.
Cameron Diaz (Charlie's Angels) and Toni Collette (The Sixth Sense) headline here as a pair of mismatched Philadelphia-based sisters. Diaz is Maggie Feller, the irresponsible ditz of the duo. Maggie drinks too much, parties too hard, sleeps with all the wrong guys and can't hold down a job to save her life. On the other hand, Rose Feller (Collette) is a Princeton grad, a successful lawyer, dresses conservatively and pays her bills on time. The only thing they seem to have in common is an obsession for shoes.
As our story gets underway, Maggie is drifting through life, coasting on her good looks and falling into Rose's lap whenever she's too drunk, too broke or simply needs to swipe a good pair of shoes. (I'm not sure why Rose, the world's frumpiest woman, has the world's most fabulous shoe collection--but, then, I've been on this Earth long enough to know that a guy should never question a gal's shoe habits.)
One not-so-fine day, Rose gets her fill of her sister's shenanigans and kicks her soundly to the curb. While raiding her father and witchy stepmother's house for cash, Maggie stumbles across a sizable cache of birthday cards--all of them sent to Maggie and Rose by their (allegedly dead) grandparents. Since the cards date all the way back to when the Feller sisters were little girls, it's clear that somebody in this family has been hiding something for a long time.
Desperately in need of some sort of sympathy, Maggie gets on a train and goes looking for her long-lost family roots. She tracks down (and promptly moves in with) her recently widowed maternal grandmother Ella (played by the incomparable Shirley MacLaine), who resides in a tidy Southern Florida retirement village.
The path that In Her Shoes is going to take seems rather obvious from the get-go. Uptight Rose needs to loosen up and party gal Maggie needs to get her head screwed on right. Mismatched as these sisters are, they're exactly what each other needs. Except that In Her Shoes splits them apart, and makes them figure out their problems more or less on their own. It's not an earthshaking twist on the formula, but it works. While Maggie finds her inner maturity in--of all appropriate places--a retirement community, Rose quits her job and finds love back home in Philly.
Director Curtis Hanson (whose schizophrenic résumé includes L.A. Confidential, Wonder Boys and 8 Mile) doesn't deliver anything much out of the mainstream here, but he moves things along with a light touch and a genial pace. The film is nicely marbled with humor, which helps keep things entertaining even in the slow parts. Maggie's nubile presence in the retirement community, for example, causes quite a stir among the male residents.
Although things are undoubtedly more nuanced in the book, the screenplay by Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich) seems to cover all the bases without drowning too deeply in “chick flick” clichés. In other words: Men need not grit their teeth upon being dragged into this one.
Toward the end, the film threatens to become overly “cute.” Everything does wrap up in a sort of sugar-glazed perfection: Lives are changed, relationships are mended and there's plenty of tearful hugging. Still, it skirts the edge of total sappiness, mixing in some unexpected dramatic twists for that tasty balance of sweet and sour. Frankly, after all is said and done, even the most hardhearted audience member will be hard-pressed to begrudge the Feller sisters their happy ending.
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