Judge Brett Cullum will take those kicky espadrilles, please...
Maggie Feller: Shoes like this should not be locked up in a closet! You
should be living a life of scandal. You should be getting screwed in an alley
behind a club by a billionaire while his wife waits in the car and he told her
he just forgot his wallet!
I hate the fact that "chick flick" has become synonymous with "Lifetime melodrama" or "crappy Sandra Bullock movie." In Her Shoes comes from Curtis Hanson, who directed L.A. Confidential and Wonder Boys. It stars three major talents: Shirley MacLaine (Terms of Endearment), Toni Collette (Muriel's Wedding), and Cameron Diaz (Being John Malkovich). There's no reason to assume it would be your typical "chick flick," but even I was fooled in to thinking this by the movie's misguided marketing campaign. Yeah, I skipped it at the cinema, because without a woman dragging me I wasn't going near this one. My loss, because it's a good little movie with a big heart. There must be a little lady trapped inside me, because I really enjoyed this one. Not enough for a sex change, but enough not to shudder next time I hear about a good "chick flick." Lifetime and Sandra Bullock be damned, this one's worth checking out. Step into some designer heels, and enjoy.
Facts of the Case
Blonde, sexy party girl Maggie (Diaz) and frumpy, bookish Rose (Collette) are sisters. One is chronically unemployed and messed up, while the other is a successful lawyer. Maggie gets all the guys; Rose just buys a lot of shoes. They have that "so close it hurts" relationship that only siblings seem to share. You know—when you can be laughing and having a great time, and then one phrase can cut you down to the core and sting like an angry hornet you just sat on. The girls come from a broken home where their mother died, and Dad remarried a Jewish harpy with a daughter she worships. They really only have each other, and a horrible fight leads to them separating at a desperate time. It's a serious rift that seems to have little chance of being resolved quickly, so Maggie flees.
Unbeknownst to Rose, Maggie has stumbled across a family secret. She knows where her grandmother is, and heads down to Florida with the sole purpose of taking advantage of this new-found relative. But grandma (MacLaine) is no sap, and knows exactly what Maggie is doing. She decides to help the wayward grandchild in a way only strong-willed grandmothers can. She allows Maggie to live with her in her retirement community, but forces her to work and face several key issues. Before long Maggie is set on the road to success, and Rose is wandering around lost and without a job. Can a broken family find a way to mend everybody? Not likely, but they can try.
What saves In Her Shoes from being mindless estrogen-laden drivel like Hope Floats are the performances. Subtlety seems to be the order of the day, which stands as a vast departure from the hysterical melodrama of most films aimed at women. Toni Collette holds the title of master when it comes to taking a quiet role and making it seethe with an intense inner life all its own. She's the savior; her portrayal of Rose becomes nothing short of an amazing study of control. Collette gives the most assured and poignant performance in the film. MacLaine is working with the same base from her previous Oscar-winning turn in Terms of Endearment, but In Her Shoes allows her to dial down the volume considerably. Rather than a raging protective mom, she is a wise, calm senior offering stability to someone who needs it. Diaz gets to capitalize on her great looks, but also reminds us of how she can subtlety nail a performance with the best of them. The trio of actresses show how a "chick flick" can utilize their strengths. They rise above the material to make the film memorable, despite the predictability of the plot's machinations.
Curtis Hanson directs the film from a secure place. He seems aware the story could sink at any moment into the trap of being another throwaway for the genre, and makes sure to quickly move through anything stereotypical. He's making an old school Hollywood film that concentrates on characters more than actions, and he allows scenes room to breathe and sink in. He uses a lot of real people in the retirement community sequences; surrounding the stars with these non-actors lends authenticity to the proceedings. He makes intelligent decisions at every turn, and refuses to allow things to get too sappy or maudlin.
Fox DVD gives the movie first-rate treatment in the transfer department. Colors are natural and vibrant, and the sound is fine for a dialogue-driven movie. Can't go in to much detail in the technical area, since DVD Verdict was given a screener for this review. But I assume any technical flaws I observed will be corrected by the Fox "Are you ready for DVD?" team. Extras are sparse, but consist of three well-done featurettes. The first is a "making of" segment, which details what the cast and crew were trying to achieve, and lets us look at the process of making a small, intimate film. Second up is a priceless series of interviews with the real residents of the senior community, who suddenly find themselves in a movie with Shirley MacLaine in their "Golden Girl" years. The third feature concentrates on the dog that appears in the movie. Interestingly enough, Hanson demanded they procure a mutt from the pound to act in the film. The dog's story is actually quite endearing, considering he was about to be put to sleep, but instead ended up sharing the screen with Cameron Diaz.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
In Her Shoes is a good "chick flick," but it's still recognizably part of the genre. The whole "fractured family bonds" plot is old as the residents in the Florida retirement community. And sure, Hanson lets things breathe, but at over two hours this one rambles a little too much. And let's face facts—if you have a Y chromosome you're not going to care about all the shoe references, or the subtleties of sisterhood. It's still a girl's movie, despite the good performances and assured direction. It may be good one, but guys will squirm through this one.
Toni Collette, Cameron Diaz, and Shirley MacLaine raise In Her Shoes a good four inches off the floor from where it should be, and make this a movie worth checking out. Collette is always a revelation, and MacLaine follows her lead and plays things unusually restrained in her typical tough matriarch role. Diaz shows some edge and verve, and gets one step further to completely burying her goofy, purely cheesecake image. They say you can't know a man until you walk a mile in his shoes, and this movie proves that's true for women, too. Maybe moreso, because girls own painful shoes. They may be beautiful, but it takes a long time not to wobble on those impossibly high heels. Thankfully, Curtis Hanson's chick flick doesn't waiver a bit. It bravely strides with its head held high, with all the grace and beauty the shoes deserve.
Guilty of being a genuinely good chick flick. It brings me dangerously close to liking the genre.
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Scales of Justice
• Making-of Featurette
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