Having previously tackled a wide range of themes in his films, Director Curtis Hanson delves into the love/hate relationship of two disparate sisters in the film, In Her Shoes. The result is an enjoyably entertaining comedy/drama featuring a number of topflight performances and some hilarious dialogue.
Maggie Feller (Cameron Diaz) is an irresponsible, practically illiterate alcoholic who sleeps around and mooches or steals to get by in the world. Her sister, Rose Feller (Toni Collette) is a self conscious, workaholic lawyer who is dating her boss and indulges in her one passion, fashionable dress shoes. (Maggie's obsession with Rose's sexy heels recalls an ongoing theme of television's Sex and the City.) Both sisters lost their psychologically impaired mother to a supposed car accident that affected their family over the years. One day Maggie is thrown out of her house by her step mother and dad. Finding refuge with her sister, Rose, she proceeds to make life miserable with her carefree attitude and interference that ends in embarrassment and anger for both. As Rose's romantic and professional life is turned upside down, Maggie is sent packing and turns to one last hope, her maternal grandmother she never knew, namely Ella Hirsch (Shirley MacLaine). Ella works in a retirement community in Florida, and Maggie's appearance causes quite a stir. When she lost her daughter, Ella lost touch with her granddaughters, and Maggie's 'visit' serves as a catalyst for reconnection. Maggie's visit becomes a reawakening of sorts for herself and a chance for Ella to rediscover her lost family. Meanwhile, Rose is at a crossroads in her life and decides to change course in her job and finds romance from an unlikely source. Anxious to reunite her granddaughters, Ella resorts to extreme measures to bridge an emotional gap as her two girls begin to discover their own identities in unique and unexpected ways.
This is a gem of a film. It says something when you realize early on that you are watching something special. Curtis Hanson (L.A.Confidential, Wonder Boys) has struck gold with Susannah Grant's (Erin Brokovich) adaptation of the best seller by Jennifer Weiner. The film is really about the secrets and lies that cripple a family over time and how a strange course of events revisit the relationships or lack thereof. Hanson and the company do a marvelous job of balancing some very funny dialogue with more serious, dramatic scenes. There are some great, memorable lines, some of which are funny and smart without losing sight of the context of the story. A number of scenes are touching and affecting in their sensitive handling of real emotions without becoming clichéd. It's nice to see real people who change over time and how seemingly inconsequential supporting characters gradually come to the forefront.
The acting by the entire cast is strong and you appreciate the little nuances in facial expression and inflection of dialogue that enrich each character. This may be Cameron Diaz's best performance. That's saying something as the glamorous model has been more star than actress in her most popular films (Charlie's Angels, There's Something About Mary) and she is given a juicy role with sharp direction. Toni Collette has always been a solid actress in any film (Sixth Sense, The Hours) but she has found a wonderful character in Rose and makes the most of it. Shirley MacLaine (Terms of Endearment, The Turning Point) is terrific in what is a change of pace role where she eschews makeup to look her age and shows a maternal wisdom that is the stuff of Supporting Oscars. You wish there were more of her in the film, but what's there is delicious. It's nice to see an old pro like Norman Lloyd still displaying his acting chops in what is a minor role of a bed-ridden patient who has a profound influence on Diaz's character.
The performances are complemented by seamless editing which not only captures the right reactions, but effortlessly switches back and forth between the two sisters especially during key scenes that are thematically linked. Although the running time goes over two hours, the pacing is good, and everything seems integral to the storyline. The musical score by Mark Isham is quite effective in complimenting the emotional moments without ever being intrusive.
Despite its strong script, the film never fully explores Maggie's transformation which, while uplifting and remarkable, is never totally convincing given her origins and tendencies. Things get wrapped up in a dreamy sendoff which is perhaps too good to be true, but those same qualities also make for a more upbeat film.
Hanson displays a very keen eye in relating what is essentially a woman's film. Yes, this may be considered a woman's film in its theme and target audience, but considering the fact it is also a well made, funny, and heart rending film about love and family, the women ought to bring along the men. In Her Shoes is not just about rival sisters but rather it is about a family yanked apart and slowly brought together again in ways that are not altogether apparent at the start. How these lost souls meld together is the stuff of high entertainment and substance.