In Her Shoes, the latest from director Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential and Wonder Boys) provides a showcase for Cameron Diaz, Toni Collette and Shirley MacLaine, and each of them takes full advantage of it. Thanks to these three divine performances, what could’ve been a drab soap opera shines.
Rather provocatively for a PG-13 film, it starts with Diaz’s drunken Maggie getting it on at her high-school reunion, followed by a nice round of puking. Her sister Rose (Collette), a straight-and-narrow lawyer in the process of scoring with one of her bosses, must come to Maggie’s 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 leaves Post-its begging her rebel sister to leave the wardrobe closet alone, and these pleas go unacknowledged. Rose tries to help Maggie get a job, and Maggie drags her feet. When Maggie does finally land a gig grooming dogs, she kidnaps a rather cute one and takes it home. The last straw comes when Maggie, rather provocatively for a PG-13 film, beds an inappropriate partner and is shown the door.
So, 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 the girls’ mother, but these were intercepted by their concerned father (Ken “The White Shadow” Howard). Eventually, Maggie finds the 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 for which she gained 25 pounds, 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 done over the past 15 years, it was easy to lose track of what a fine actress she is. Ella the forgotten grandmother was abandoned by her family for being too much of a control freak, and MacLaine gives her just the right amount of remorse and dignity, as if she’s been working on her social issues for decades and came to grips with them just a short while before her granddaughter’s visit.
At times, the story feels a little stale and far-fetched. Rose quits her high-paying law-office job to open her own business as a dog walker, and the money issues of such a move are never addressed. Maggie gets herself an easy audition for MTV, something that probably would 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.
But 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, who plays a moment of rejection with resonant heartbreaking brilliance. And with one remarkably well-acted scene, Richard Burgi somehow manages to make a complete scumbag oddly sympathetic.
Adapting Jennifer Weiner’s chick-lit best seller, 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—no small feat 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.