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In Her Shoes
Reviewed by Carla Freccero
Review Date: 11/1/05

Director of 8 Mile, LA Confidential, The Hand that Rocks the Cradle and many other movies, Curtis Hanson has come out with what the critics call a chick flick, In Her Shoes, starring Cameron Diaz, Toni Collette, and Shirley MacLaine. In this case, chick flick means a movie that’s mostly about women instead of being mostly about men. It’s an adaptation of a novel by Jennifer Weiner, and the screenplay’s written by Susannah Grant.

This movie is long and slow, but good; it needs to be slow for the set-up and it needs to be long for the story to end. There are two sisters, one a brainy successful brunette lawyer who’s not so sure about her looks (Toni Collette as Rose and made to look quite unattractive), and one a blond, gorgeous, jobless high school drop-out (Cameron Diaz as Maggie, with none of her usual mischievous and awkward sense of humor).  Maggie doesn’t have a place to live and has just had to move out of her dad’s house to make room for her horrible step-mom’s “perfect” daughter. So Maggie moves in with Rose and immediately and predictably wreaks havoc. The shoes are a prop in this movie: They are the beautiful unworn and expensive accessories to which Rose treats herself since her feet never change size; Maggie covets them, wears them and wrecks them, every chance she gets. But the shoe thing is not much more important than that. What does matter is that Maggie ruins Rose’s chance at a good and handsome man (though of course that turns out to be a good thing), while Rose cannot resist humiliating Maggie around the pretty sister’s inability to read or get a job. There’s a lot of ugliness between these sisters, so much so that I had trouble believing them when the story becomes about their love and inseparability. Their relationship is perhaps what’s most implausible about this film and its least successful feature.

At a certain point, just as you start to get impatient to see Shirley MacLaine, Maggie discovers, while rummaging through her father’s desk for money, that the girls have grandparents. We know that their mother died tragically in a car accident, but not why the letters from the grandparents have remained unopened all these years. Maggie sets off for Florida to visit. Here’s where the movie picks up its pace, though it’s always great to watch great actors, so even the slower first half is not unpleasant. Shirley MacLaine is the only surviving grandparent and she works in a retirement community whose residents are as lively, kind, tough, funny, and together as anyone could ever wish for in communal living. They absorb Maggie into their midst, having had considerable collective experience with grandchildren. And, although she thinks she’s going to scam this grandparent, it’s clear from the start that MacLaine’s an expert at the kind of tough but gentle love grandparents are known for. Instead of yelling at Maggie for trying to steal her money, she challenges her to work as an aide in the hospital, promising to match her paycheck dollar for dollar.

An important scene in this movie mirrors similar scenes in Hanson’s other films, and it is a scene of reading, or a scene where poetry and the power of words profoundly transform the protagonist. The poem in question is Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art,” a devastatingly understated elegy to the elegiac mode itself. Though  Maggie’s reading is atrocious, she apparently understands the meaning and garners the praise of the blind professor to whom she reads, who exclaims “A+” upon hearing her interpretation of the work. And, it changes everything. Maggie gets in touch with her sense of loss—a loss, we begin to understand, deeply related to the disappearance of her mother—and it helps her grow up, which means becoming a good capitalist entrepreneur, stopping her slutty behavior, apologizing to her sister and even acting behind the scenes to help her out.

Like all movies about death and loss, this one ends with a wedding.  So predictable you could write it yourself, In Her Shoes nevertheless manages to be charming and moving in a not so completely over-the-top sentimental way. 

Looking for trouble at the movies, for KUSP and the film gang, this is Carla Freccero.