Three divine performances make what could’ve been a drab soap opera shine. In Her Shoes, the latest from director Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential, Wonder Boys) provides a showcase for Cameron Diaz, Toni Collette and Shirley MacLaine, and each takes full advantage of it.
The film starts rather provocatively for a PG-13 film, with Diaz’s drunken Maggie getting it on at her high-school reunion, culminating with a nice round of puking. Her sister, Rose (Collette), a straight and narrow lawyer who at the time of Maggie’s puking is scoring with one of her bosses, must come to her rescue and take her back to their parents’ house. When their grouchy stepmother (Candice Azzara) refuses Maggie’s admittance, Rose’s apartment becomes the destination, paving the way for plenty of trouble.
Rose tries to help Maggie get a job, and Maggie drags her feet. Rose leaves Post-its begging her rebel sister to leave her wardrobe closet alone, and those pleas go unacknowledged. When Maggie does finally bag a job grooming dogs, she kidnaps a rather cute one and takes it home. The final straw comes when Maggie, again provocatively for a PG-13 film, beds an inappropriate partner and is shown the door.
Where’s MacLaine in all of this? Apparently, Rose and Maggie have been unaware of the existence of their grandmother who lives in Florida. She sent birthday cards after the untimely death of their mother, and they were intercepted by their concerned father (Ken “The White Shadow” Howard). Maggie finds those cards, collects the $5 bills within, and goes on a search for her grandma.
It sounds like an episode of General Hospital, but Hanson and his stars don’t treat it that way. Diaz hasn’t been this good since Being John Malkovich. She keeps an insensitive person somewhat likeable on the road to redemption. Collette, almost always good at whatever she does, gives Rose (a role she gained 25 pounds for, only to lose them during the course of the film) a true sense of dimension and poise.
As for MacLaine, she hasn’t had a role this good since 1990’s Postcards from the Edge. With all of the goofy movies she’s been doing over the past 15 years, it was easy to lose track of what a fine actress she is. Ella, the forgotten grandmother, had been abandoned by her family for being too much of a control freak. MacLaine gives Ella just the right amount of remorse and dignity, as if she’d been working on her social issues for decades and came to grips with them a few years previous to her granddaughter’s visit.
The story feels a little bit stale and farfetched at times. Rose quits her high-paying law office job to open her own business as a dog walker, and the money issues such a move would involve are never addressed. Maggie gets herself an easy audition for MTV, something that would probably require an agent and much planning. It’s also a bit silly that two grown women would never be told about their long-lost grandmother, no matter how much of an asshole the lady was.
All of the sticking points are overcome by the film’s amazing charm. Mark Feuerstein gets his breakthrough role as Simon, the perfect guy for Rose. A moment where he is rejected while on a business trip with Rose is heartbreaking thanks to the brilliant way Feuerstein plays it. Richard Burgi, as Maggie’s boss Jim, somehow manages to make a complete scumbag oddly sympathetic with one remarkably well-acted scene.
Hanson and screenwriter Susannah Grant pull off the most assuredly tough task of balancing three stars at the top of their games. Not a single character in the film feels underdeveloped, a nice achievement with such a large cast. In Her Shoes might be a bit foofy in spots, but it also has plenty of depth and a story that hits home. It’s a major smile inducer.