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In Her Shoes

A Flawed Family Drama Elevated by Crisp Performances and Insightful Dialogue

Directed by Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential, Wonder Boys, 8 Mile) from a screenplay by Samantha Grant (Erin Brockovich), In Her Shoes, a family-centered drama/comedy based on the best-selling novel by Jennifer Wiener will more than likely be described (and dismissed), at least by some critics and viewers, as a "chick flick". In Her Shoes will have difficulty escaping this label in part because it's far too easy to use as a descriptive phrase, and also because the description fits (in the best sense of that phrase, however).

Maggie (Cameron Diaz) and Rose (Toni Collette), biological sisters, are diametrically opposed in appearance, attitudes, and lifestyles. Maggie is an almost 30-something, self-centered party girl with poor job skills (she depends on her immediate family for financial support, not to mention the occasional roof over her head). In contrast, the older Rose is a successful attorney who works for a top law firm in Philadelphia. Rose is defined by her respectable, bland taste in clothes, and workaholic lifestyle. Maggie and Rose have little in common, beyond their biological connection, a shoe fetish, and the same shoe size. Maggie and Rose repeatedly clash, undermining each other with cruel taunts, leaving them both angry, hurt, and, after one particularly harsh argument, unlikely to reconcile, let alone coexist with one another.

Fortuitously, Rose discovers that their long-lost maternal grandmother, Ella Hirsch (Shirley MacLaine), presumed dead, is still alive and living in a retirement community in, where else, sun-soaked Florida. In a move away from formula, instead of a road trip, with the tight, cramped space inside the car leading to a grudging rapprochement between the sisters, solidified once they meet and spend time with their grandmother, In Her Shoes goes a different route (albeit with the same destination in mind). Once the sisters fall out, scenes alternate between Maggie in Florida with her grandmother (cue male octogenarians gazing lustily on Maggie and her near-invisible bikini) and Rose, who decides to take a leave of absence from her law firm to pursue the path of self-discovery.

The two storylines, of course, converge, but not before tears are shed, family secrets are uncovered (including a family tragedy), and a few more hard words are exchanged between the characters. Apparently, the final, inevitable reconciliation between the sisters will be built on mutual understanding and respect (minus the cattiness or pettiness familiar to anyone with a sibling). Hanson and his screenwriters faced the obvious challenge of adapting and compressing a 450-page novel into a two-hour (or less) film. In Her Shoes could have benefited from judicious pruning, especially in the early scenes that establish the characters and their relationships.

Flaws aside, In Her Shoes generally succeeds due to several factors, including: sharp, insightful dialogue that captures the conflicts, contradictions, and frustrations present in most family relationships; solid, engaging performances from the three lead actresses (even if Hanson makes Toni Collette's character far frumpier and insecure than necessary); and well-directed scenes that turn on emotional, and emotionally authentic, character interactions. Hanson wisely employs a near seamless, conventional shooting style, allowing the performances and dialogue to "sell" individual scenes. On balance, In Her Shoes' flaws may not be minor, but they're likely to be overlooked or more likely, forgiven by most viewers.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars