In Her Shoes
March 4, 2006
Curtis Hanson is a chameleon-like filmmaker. From L.A. Confidential (1997) to Wonder Boys (2000) to 8 Mile (2002), he refuses to be pigeon-holed by any one genre. His latest effort, In Her Shoes (2005), adapted from Jennifer Weiner’s novel by Erin Brockovich (2000) screenwriter Susannah Grant, falls into the dreaded chick flick genre. Hanson and his stars are acutely aware of the stigma of this term and have gone to great lengths to distance themselves from this phrase in the press.
Maggie (Diaz) and Rose (Collette) are sisters but they couldn’t be more different. Maggie is the party girl burning the proverbial candle at both ends while Rose is the smarter, more sensible one. Maggie still lives at home and her life is a mess. Rose, on the other hand, lives on her own and cleans up Maggie’s messes. However, they both share a mutual love of shoes.
Tired of dealing with Maggie, their mother-in-law kicks her out so she moves in with Rose until she can find a job. Maggie quickly makes Rose’s life a living hell. After Rose catches her sister having sex with her boss (who she was seeing romantically), she kicks her out. So, Rose decides to go to Miami to stay with a grandmother named Ella (MacLaine) she never knew. She lives in a retirement community and Maggie’s presence cause quite a stir to say the least. Ella’s thrilled to see Maggie but she’s also no dummy. Ella knows something’s up and isn’t afraid to call Maggie on it.
Cameron Diaz and Toni Collette are very believable as sisters. They have a familiarity between them and a shorthand that is common among siblings. The two actresses convincingly demonstrate how easily siblings get on each other’s nerves and know how to push each other’s buttons. The film portrays Diaz’s character either as her usual cutesy ditz that the world has come to know and love or as a horrible train wreck of human being, having sex in a bathroom stall as the film opens and basically turning Rose’s life upside down. Hanson isn’t afraid to make Diaz look bad – not really physically but personality-wise. Maggie is an ugly human being who shamelessly takes advantage of her sister.
Shirley MacLaine is excellent as Ella. Her character is a tough lady that doesn’t fall into the Golden Girls cliché. The veteran actress delivers a very subtle, nuanced performance, creating a full fleshed out character that helps Maggie redeem herself and reunites the feuding sisters.
As he did so effectively in L.A. Confidential and Wonder Boys, Hanson makes great use of actual locations as is the case with Rose’s apartment in the Rittenhouse Square area of downtown Philadelphia. He really creates a sense of place and shows off the city quite well. However, he falters in the music department – unusual considering how much of a role it played in his previous films. In most movies there is too much music being used but in the case of In Her Shoes, it suffers from too little, if that’s possible.
Ultimately, In Her Shoes has an uneven feel to it and tries to balance equal parts romantic comedy with drama but fails to maintain a consistent rhythm unlike, say, the films of James L. Brooks who is able to do this much more successfully. Early on, the filmmakers don’t establish even a shred of love between the sisters and provide too many reasons to hate Maggie. So why should we care about what happens to her? Towards the end of the film, she begins to redeem herself but it is too little too late and one almost wishes that the entire film were about Rose who is an infinitely more interesting (and sympathetic) character instead of dividing up screen time between the two sisters.
“People in the Shoes” is a decent making of featurette. Hanson was attracted to the character-driven nature and the authenticity of the emotions conveyed in Grant’s screenplay. Diaz was drawn to the dysfunction of her character. The director talks about how he conveyed the characters’ traits on a visual level, like always framing Maggie with mirrors because she is all about her physical appearance.
“A Retirement Community For Active Seniors” is a cute featurette with soundbites from many of the extras in Ella’s retirement community who were also actual residents there. They talk about their experiences working on the movie and their brushes (and impressions) with famous folks like Diaz.
Finally, there is “From Death Row to the Red Carpet: The Casting of Honey Bun” that takes a look at the dog that Maggie takes from her short-lived dog grooming job. Hanson wanted a pug mutt so that people would see how desirable dogs from pounds can be. He also talks about working with the dog and how to direct animals – not as easy as you’d think.