BASED ON Jennifer Weiner’s best-selling book, Cameron Diaz and Toni Collette star in the film In Her Shoes. There are no prizes for guessing who is playing the wild child and who the level-headed frump is, nonetheless director Curtis Hanson breaks the mould with this refreshingly unfrivolous and stiletto sharp chick flick.
The film begins as a study in contrasts. Rose Feller (Collette) is a smart, focused, yet insecure woman, struggling with her weight and a shoe habit. She works as a high profile attorney at a prestigious Philadelphia law firm. Her sister, footloose and fancy-free Maggie (Diaz), is a party girl who goes through jobs like changes of underwear and relies constantly on her older sister. They are sisters and best friends but complete opposites.
After a run of particularly bad luck, Maggie moves in with her sister, who is uncharacteristically ensconced in a new fling. At first, the reunited sisters enjoy each other’s company, but when Rose begins nudging Maggie towards employment, finds her wearing her shoes (her one indulgence as unlike clothes they always fit) and, finally, sleeping with her boyfriend, the last shred of the familial bond is destroyed. They fight bitterly and Rose throws Maggie out of her apartment and out of her life, presumably forever.
At this point, the story finds an extra spring in its step – Shirley MacLaine. Looking for money, Maggie riffles through her father’s dresser drawer and discovers the childhood cards sent by her maternal grandmother, which their dad (Howard) never passed on. With nowhere to turn, Maggie decides to seek out a grandmother, who until now was nothing more than a return address on a handful of childhood birthday cards, and heads to Florida.
In grandma Ella (MacLaine) Maggie has found not only her match, but also the one person who can tame her and eek out some self-esteem. Ella welcomes Maggie with open arms but sizes her up quickly and forces her to stand on her own two feet and take responsibility. This causes Maggie to bloom while adjusting to the languorous pace of the retirement community for active seniors.
Back home in Philadelphia, Rose’s life has also taken a turn for the better. She dumped her high-pressure job in favour of one walking dogs and has become engaged to the perfect guy. But it’s obvious that Rose misses Maggie, so she too heads down to Florida, where truths are finally revealed. Skeletons, along with designer shoes, tumble out of the family closet, confessions are made and wounds healed.
Veteran actress MacLaine brings weight and breezy charm as the no-nonsense grandmother who takes Maggie in and pulls her up by the Jimmy Choo bootstraps. She is terrific as the stabilising force, gluing the family back together, yet still invests Ella with a good amount of humour, particularly in her budding romance with Lewis Feldman (Adler). However, the film’s absolute scene-stealer is Frances Beers as Ella’s electric-cart riding buddy Mrs Lefkowitz.
Director Curtis Hanson is proving amazingly adept too. After tackling genres from the psychological thriller The Hand That Rocks The Cradle and 8Mile to LA Confidential, he has now moved on to the chick flick. He has turned the film into entertainment with true human emotion, with only a few minor concessions to Hollywood gloss – it’s not truly profound, just a simple story, lovingly polished.
Grant’s adaptation gets at what makes sisters tick by slowly revealing the family history and gradually making clear why these women act the way they do today.
The title shoes are a metaphor for several things, from the obvious literal to the symbolic. Rose and Maggie are two sides of the same coin – the former has low self-esteem but can always trust shoes to fit if nothing else in life does; the latter is so unfocused she doesn’t even have an address to call her own. Merged into one person, the pair might just be a complete entity, but their constant conflict of lifestyles and values is a wedge driven between them.