Thursday, October 6, 2005
Jennifer Weiner’s 2002 novel became a hit with the
chick-lit crowd for its tragi-comic take on the contentious
relationship between two adult sisters. Rose Feller (Toni
Collette) is a successful Philadelphia attorney, but a plain
Jane whose romantic life consists of novels with pictures of
Fabio on the cover. Her sister Maggie (Cameron Diaz), on the
other hand, has never had trouble landing guys, but her
learning disabilities have made landing a steady job
considerably more difficult.
IN HER SHOES ( * * ½ )
Directed by Curtis Hanson.
Starring Cameron Diaz, Toni Collette and Shirley MacLaine.
(PG-13, 130 mins.)
Rose has always bailed Maggie out of the ongoing disaster that is her life, but when Maggie goes one step too far and enrages Rose, she’s left without her safety net. Desperate for somewhere to go, she turns to Ella (Shirley MacLaine), the retired grandmother whose existence had been hidden from the Feller girls for years by their widowed father.
Grandma Ella doesn’t make her first appearance in the film until around the 45-minute mark, and that’s just one place where screenwriter Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich) considerably streamlines Weiner’s narrative. Most notably absent is an extended section where Maggie stows away in the library of Rose’s alma mater Princeton, and it’s a savvy decision. Weiner makes a huge point of having the two sisters essentially exchange lives after their falling out—Maggie attending college classes, Rose dropping out of professional life and getting a boyfriend (Mark Feuerstein)—and the juxtaposition clearly looks forced after Grant’s concise fix. The film may lose the double-meaning of the title—Maggie and Rose metaphorically seeing life through each other’s eyes in addition to sharing footwear—but it also loses a lot of flab.
Meanwhile, it also loses a lot of sisterly connection. Grant makes some significant changes by revealing details about the sisters’ childhood and their relationship with their dead mother much later in the story, details crucial for establishing the bond that connects them in spite of their polar-opposite personalities. While Collette and Diaz both deliver fine performances—the latter in particular as she wrestles with her sense of self-worth—it’s harder to get a sense of what unites them when the story separates them for much of the running time.
That tension between smart choices and confounding ones runs through nearly all of In Her Shoes. Director Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential) directs at times with a restraint uncommon to chick flicks, yet also chooses to underline the opening scene (by scoring it to Garbage’s “Stupid Girl”) and the closing scene (by repeating a poem for emphasis). There’s a great casting choice in Feuerstein as Rose’s no-nonsense Prince Charming, and a terrible casting choice of the always-imperious MacLaine in a role that demands a deeply introverted sense of grief.
Perhaps it’s enough that In Her Shoes is better than a lot of similar fare—you know, the kind of fried green ya-ya movies that seem like they’re released into theaters simply as precursor to the inevitable ad nauseam run on Lifetime. That’s the kind of story it was in Jennifer Weiner’s book, and Susannah Grant has adapted it into something more artfully structured. Simultaneously—and perhaps ironically—by taking some of the chick out of the lit, she may have made it something less purely emotional.