In Her Shoes (2005) / Comedy-Drama

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for language and sexual content
Running Time: 130 min.

Cast: Toni Collette, Cameron Diaz, Shirley MacLaine, Mark Feuerstein, Ken Howard, Richard Burgi, Brooke Smith
Director: Curtis Hanson
Screenplay: Susannah Grant (based on the novel by Jennifer Weiner)
Review published October 8, 2005

Although he started off doing routine films, director Curtis Hanson has turned himself into one of the finest directors of mainstream fare working today, especially since his powerhouse 1997 film, L.A. Confidential.  He has also done this feat without repeating himself, as his subsequent films, Wonder Boys, 8 Mile, and how In Her Shoes, are all as different as can be in their stories, but Hanson has still steadily delivered excellent character-driven dramas that are surprisingly astute despite the formulaic underpinnings prevalent beneath the surface. 

In Her Shoes is based on Jennifer Weiner's best-selling novel of the same name.  At its core, it is the tale of two sisters, the frumpy but successful lawyer Rose (Collette, The Last Shot) and the stunning but intellectually challenged tramp, Maggie (Diaz, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle).  Both are haunted by the untimely death of their unstable mother when they were children, resulting in a dysfunctional relationship with their father (Howard, The Net), and estrangement with their previously overprotective grandmother, Ella (MacLaine, Bewitched).  The sisters only have each other, that is until Maggie makes a play for Rose's new beau, causing a rift between them that ends up with Rose evicting Maggie from her apartment, and Maggie headed to Miami to find the long-lost Ella.  Both try to move forward with their lives separately, but they soon find that they are two halves that make a whole, feeling lost without the sibling they relied on over those many years since the loss of their mother.

Hanson gets quality performances from a very talented cast, with Collette very effective in her vulnerability, and Shirley MacLaine engaging in one of her best roles in years.  Although it will probably be tagged with the label of "chick flick", and it is to some extent, this is a sentimental tale that doesn't really pander exclusively to one audience -- men should also be able to be entertained without feeling left out.

If there is a downside, and it isn't really a critical one, it's that Collette just isn't as chunky starting out to merit all of the fat references.  Reportedly, she has gained 25 lbs. for the role, which she subsequently lost through the course of production, which fit in nicely with the fact that her character would also undergo a change in body image as well.  This isn't the first time she has gained weight for a role, as she had gained about 40 lbs. for her breakthrough performance in Muriel's Wedding, but it seemed much more noticeable in that film.  On the other end, Diaz is also a known quantity, and while no one would probably think her brainy enough to carry out a role as a nuclear physicist, it is apparent that she is trying to play dumb, perhaps a bit too much.  We know her too well to really buy that she is as stupid as she is supposed to be in this film.  The funny thing is, both performers are so appealing in their roles, it is easy to suspend disbelief and go with the flow, because the story at large changes gears enough to maintain steady interest, and at a lengthy 2 hours and 10 minutes, that certainly is a blessing.

Certainly, women, especially ones with close relationships with sisters, will find a great to like with In Her Shoes, and it definitely merits a viewing if you meet that demographic.  Men will most likely take a pass on it, but I will say, if you have a significant other that wants you to attend with her, it actually isn't overly mawkish or manipulative, as some films that target similar audiences can sometimes be.  It does pack some emotional moments, but it's not a tear-jerker, and the story has just enough truthful elements to overcome any contrivances within.  Bittersweet and uplifting, with enough laughs and emotional resonance to please anyone looking for just that sort of thing.

Qwipster's rating:

2005 Vince Leo