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Cinema Junkie by Beth Accomando

In Her Shoes

Cameron Diaz and Toni Collette play sisters in the new film In Her Shoes (opening October 7 throughout San Diego). Curtis Hanson, the director of L.A. Confidential, leaves his hardboiled edge behind for whats being pitched as this years high concept, emotionally wrought chick flick.

Rose (Toni Collette) and Maggie (Cameron Diaz) are sisters with little in common. Rose is a workaholic at a law firm, and Maggie is perpetually unemployed. Rose is dependable, responsible, respectable you know all those boring things. Maggie, on the other hand, is wild, rebellious, free-spirited, in a wordfun. Rose dresses for drab success; Maggie dresses to kill. Rose disapproves of Maggie, and Maggie cant stand Roses condescension. But when Maggies in trouble, she calls on sister Rose, and Rose always comes to her rescue. Rose even slips away from her sleeping, hunky date (such a rare thing that she snaps a picture of him in her bed) to pick up her drunken sis from a high school reunion.

But when Maggie beds Roses hunk, the sisters have more than a little tiff. Rose throws Maggie out. But like a cat, Maggie has a tendency to land on her feet. This time she lands in Florida where she discovers she has a grandmother, Ella (Shirley MacLaine), that she never knew about. As granddaughter and grandmother reconnect, Rose goes something of a career and romantic makeover back in Philly. But all are destined to come together before the final, tearful fade to black.

In Her Shoes has been receiving some buzz as the fall awards season slowly begins to ramp up. I even let myself grow hopeful that director Curtis Hanson might bring some grit and edge to the often soft and weepy genre. To be fair, I have to confess a certain aversion to Hollywood chick flicksI hated The Banger Sister, tolerated Waiting to Exhale, and avoided The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. But if you can minimize the sappy sentimentality, and ramp up the action, then I can enjoy an all-girl cast in something like Charlies Angels or Hong Kongs Heroic Trio. Chick flicks with action I can take. Yet I think my aversion to In Her Shoes is not based solely on it being a teary chick flickits also a badly made film.

From the opening scenes, in fact, you know exactly where this film is going to go. Rose and Maggie are drawn with such stereotypical strokes that you know before the characters do, for example, that Maggie will call her sister a fat pig and Rose will call Maggie a slut. You know they will fight, separate, and tearfully get back together. (I wont even bother to mention the stereotyping of the sisters step mom and stepsister, and the cute little old ladies at grandmas senior community.) You know too that each will eventually surprise the other with her ability to change. And you know from the films title, that shoes are going to figure prominentlyand predictablyin the story. The opening shot is of Maggies stiletto heeled shoes, Rose has a closet full of shoes, and grandma Ella even provides a vintage pair at the appropriately emotional moment. Plus theres the symbolic dimension of the title, you know, living life in her shoes. The story takes such a predictable course that its easy to grow impatientyou know whats going to happen so why cant the characters just hurry things along.

But whats most annoying about the film is not the general sense of familiarity but the badly conceived specific details. Take for example a scene where Rose, having already thrown Maggie out, sits on her couch. Then, like the princess and the pea, Rose squirms uncomfortably as she discovers Maggies big wooly knit scarf wedged behind the pillow. Now she can suddenly be reminded that she misses her sister. Maybe Id buy this contrivance if it were a small silk scarf or if we hadnt recently seen Rose and her new boyfriend make out on the couch. But the way it is shot and played, it simply comes across as a contrivance.

Then theres Roses explanation for why she cant tell her new boyfriend about Maggie. According to Rose, she cant tell him because he would hate Maggie, and Rose couldnt have him hate her sister. Huh? Considering her last boyfriend hopped into bed with sexy sis, doesnt it seem more likely that shed worry about her new beau falling for sis rather than despising her? The sisters, and everyone else for that matter, also talk about the great bond they share, that they are incomplete without each other. But were never shown anything that makes us buy into this idea. We dont see their closeness but rather are asked to take it as a given. The film wants to tackle the issue of how we label each other and how that can impact lives. But it ends up falling victim to labels by drawing characters as types rather than flesh and blood characters, and then confining them to their designated roles.

In addition, neither Maggie nor Rose is very appealing. They are both grating and annoying from the beginning. Only Shirley MacLaines Ella holds out the hope of a multi-dimensional character. She seems less a type and more an individual. But even she falls victim to some inanities in the script.

In Her Shoes (rated PG-13 for some language and sexual content) is a contrived work that fails to elicit true emotions. I felt more of a connection to the puppet creations in Corpse Bride than to the live actors here.