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Published on November 11th, 2005 | by Guest Editor

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In Her Shoes

Classification: 12A Director: Curtis Hanson
Cast: Toni Collette, Cameron Diaz, Shirley Maclaine, Mark Feuerstein
Rating: 4/5

Maggie (Diaz) and Rose (Collette) Feller are sisters who couldn’t be more different if they tried. Maggie is gorgeous, a party girl who barely graduated from high school and relies on her looks to slide through life. Barely employable, she couch-surfs, relying on friends and family to bail her out and provide her with a roof over her head. Nonetheless, Maggie has an innate sense of style and flair that isn’t shared by Rose, her older sister.

A Princeton educated attorney at a Philadelphia law firm, Rose is ambitious and hard-working. She struggles with her weight and is uncomfortable in her work suits. Her low-self esteem and devotion to her job means that she has no romantic life; her one outlet is her beautiful apartment and her walk-in closet full of gorgeous shoes. Rose is surprised and delighted when one of the partners, Jim (Richard Burgi) shows an interest in her, and they start dating. Then Jim meets Maggie, currently ensconsed on Rose’s couch, and Rose walks in to find them in flagrante. This is the final straw and Rose throws Maggie out.

Knowing that she has nowhere else to go, Maggie sets off in search of her long-lost grandmother Ella (Maclaine). Ella has been estranged from her granddaughters since the suicide of their bipolar mother years before, and now lives in a retirement community in Florida. Maggie’s arrival is unexpected and not much of a treat. Maggie is quite horrifyingly selfish and happy to sponge off Ella while she susses out the situation. Luckily Ella isn’t deceived, and Maggie’s usual weapons – her sexual charm and charisma – are less effective in this environment. Ella gets Maggie a job, and she starts to create a new life for herself, gradually reaching out to people, making friends for the first time, helping people and discovering that she does have assets other than her beauty.

In the meantime Rose, cut loose from Maggie, falls in love with Simon (Feuerstein), another lawyer, who has been in love with her for years. Simon is quietly, unassumingly persistent, and when Rose finally lets him into her life she realises what she’s been missing all along. She gives up work, starts walking dogs, loses weight. But something is wrong. Eventually she tracks Maggie down to Florida, where both sisters, and their grandmother, have to face some unpleasant truths.

Expecting In Her Shoes to be a real chick flick, it was a pleasant surprise to find that, though it has elements of romantic comedy, its much more of a ‘woman’s picture’ in the classic sense, the kind of rich character-driven dramas that used to feature Bette Davis and Barbara Stanwyck. The presence of LA Confidential director Hanson may have something to do with it, and the source material, a hugely successful novel, was adapted for the screen by Susannah Grant, who also wrote Erin Brockovich. It features wonderful performances by its three leading ladies; Diaz has the showier part and its great to see her playing complicated, unhappy Maggie. Diaz really brings out the vulnerability and the soft centre under the bitter shell – Maggie’s desperation to be seen as something other than her looks, and her lack of self-confidence. Diaz is a very fine actress, but like Maggie is sometimes trapped by her looks, and she clearly relished this chance to fly.

The sisters have been boxed into their roles for so long – smart frump, stupid beauty – that they don’t know how to escape them. Their mutual dependency, reinforced by the death of their mother, holds them back, and its only when they are separated and forced to function as individuals that they can really grow up. It’s a truthful, moving and enjoyable journey.


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