...the movie loses focus, meanders, and changes tone at the drop of a wine glass, but it can be touching and revealing, too.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.

"Why do you let her do this to you?" asks Amy, one of Rose's closest friends. "Because," answers Rose, "she's my sister."

The sister-sister relationship is the crux of this 2005 comedic drama, "In Her Shoes," based on the best-selling novel by Jennifer Weiner. But it's not just a sister-sister story we get; it's a two-part movie, with an unattractive, unsympathetic first half and a schmaltzy, sentimental second half. It's the second part that makes the movie worthwhile. I mean, which part would you rather watch?

Although I couldn't help being reminded of another film released around the end of the year that involved contentious kindred, "The Family Stone," at least "In Her Shoes" has only one annoying family member to deal with and not a whole clan. "In Her Shoes" sets no marks for originality or innovation in filmmaking, but if you're patient enough, it ends on a sweet and uplifting note.

The story deals with two single sisters in their late twenties, early thirties, Maggie and Rose Feller. Maggie, played by Cameron Diaz, is the younger, sexier, more promiscuous sister. She's also selfish, immature, manipulative, irresponsible, lazy, thieving, and jobless. While she is not as dumb as she seems, neither is she a pleasant person to know. Rose, played by Toni Collette, is the older, more conservative, more businesslike sister, a lawyer by profession. She sees herself as homely and overweight, which she is not, and must continually spend her life protecting and bailing out her reckless kid sister. She's tired of it.

The film's theme revolves around the idea that two siblings can grow up in the same family yet turn out entirely different from each other. The film's story line explains how the Feller sisters cope with one another.

The movie begins in Philadelphia, ironically the "City of Brotherly Love." I guess nobody told the city fathers about sisters. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, "Philadelphia has been described either as the elegant but rather jaded great lady or as the overage and sickly spinster of American cities." These feminine descriptions might apply to the Feller women as well. As the first scene opens, Maggie is getting drunk at her ten-year high school reunion, trying to get it on with an old classmate, puking, and passing out. As always, Rose has to come to her rescue.

Their mother has died some years before, and their father (Ken Howard) has remarried a woman (Candice Azzara) who doesn't like either of them. Indeed, the stepmother behaves like the Wicked Witch of the West and refuses in particular to help Maggie. Well, OK, we can't really blame her there.

Rose wants her sister to go back to college and make something of herself, but Maggie would rather freeload and get by on her good looks. Certainly, Rose could solve all her problems by simply ignoring her sister, which she tries eventually to do, but then we wouldn't have a picture. Instead, she frets a lot while Maggie makes her life a nightmare, getting a ticket in her car and seducing her boyfriend. Rose tries to make Maggie understand that she won't be young and beautiful forever, that she needs to look to her future, but Maggie will have none of it.

So far, the movie is all doom and gloom, with the sisters constantly bickering and fighting. It's not much fun for the viewer. Then, as the picture seems to be going on this way forever, it picks up a hint of a plot, and everything changes when Maggie decides to visit her estranged grandmother, Ella, in Florida. Ella is played by Shirley MacLaine, and the grandmother hasn't seen either of her granddaughters in years, not since the mother died. It's been so long, Maggie and Ella don't even recognize one another.

From the point where Maggie reaches Florida, the whole movie turns around. The darkness turns to light, just as the snow and ice of Philadelphia in winter turn to sun and sand in Florida. And is everything really pink in Florida? Even Maggie's blouse is pink to match the buildings and cars. Symbolism in a movie is one thing; this is going overboard.

Ella lives and works in a retirement community, where Maggie turns heads in her skimpy outfits. As Maggie slowly develops a relationship with her grandmother and begins to turn her life around, Rose changes her life as well. She quits her law firm and becomes a professional dog walker; and she gets engaged to a very nice and very persistent fellow lawyer, Simon Stein (Mark Feuerstein).

Does all of this sound too good to be true? Of course, it does; the story is a fairy tale, plain and simple. Anyone who sees the film as anything even approaching reality probably watched a different movie than the one I saw. Not that fairy tales are bad. This one turns out fairly entertaining in its second half, the part where everything turns to sweetness and light.

Here's the thing, though: I could have followed Rose's story forever. Her character is far more personable, far more charming, far more agreeable than Maggie's, and Toni Collette is so much more appealing in her part than Cameron Diaz is in hers that Rose's escapades alone could have made a more engaging movie. Diaz, on the other hand, flashes her patented smile and struts her celebrated assets at every turn without ever showing the least bit of charisma. Until the very end of the movie, that is, when the fairy-tale ending kicks in. Oh, and Ms. MacLaine is practically wasted as the grandmother; not that MacLaine isn't good in the role, but the part as written could have been played by Johnny Knoxville.

Any number of minor characters also get lost along the way: Jim (Richard Burgi), Rose's big fling at the beginning of the movie; Amy (Brooke Smith), Rose's best friend; Lewis (Jerry Adler), Ella's new friend; and the professor (Norman Lloyd), who helps Maggie gain confidence in herself. I'm sure all of these people worked just fine in Jennifer Weiner's book, but in Susannah Grant's screenplay they remain rather underdeveloped and seem like so much clutter.

It's never too late in life, and Maggie and Rose and Ella in due time learn who they really are, inside and out, and what they really want in life. I just wish "In Your Shoes" had made up its mind earlier what it wanted to be, because as a comedy it has very few laughs and as a drama it has very little genuine emotion. But when things turn out so nicely in the end, I suppose it's hard to complain.

The movie looks pretty good on DVD. Fox engineers have maintained most of the film's original 2.35:1 aspect ratio in a screen size that stretches to about 2.13:1 across my television. It's anamorphic, enhanced for widescreen TVs, so definition and color depth are pleasing to the eye. However, the image can sometimes be a touch too dark and glassy for my taste; there's the slightest hint of film grain as well, which is only noticeable in darker shots; and I noticed some minor moiré effects, fluttering lines, in things like balcony railings. The picture is quality is bright and vivid, though, especially in outdoor scenes, and skin tones are particularly natural (with Ms. Diaz providing plenty of opportunity to prove the point).

As this is primarily a dialogue-driven motion picture, one would not expect the sound reproduction to rival "Star Wars." Still and all, the Dolby Digital 5.1 sonics do a good job with the dynamic range and impact of the musical background, and they convey a fairly natural, well-balanced midrange. The deepest bass and highest treble are unnecessary and, therefore, largely absent. The surrounds are used sparingly, if at all, with a few crowd noises and a bit of musical ambience about all you will hear.

The primary extras consist of three featurettes. The first is "The People in the Shoes," sixteen minutes long, wherein the director, the producer, and some of the actors explain the meaning of the story and why the film is so good. The second is "A Retirement Community For Acting Seniors," eleven minutes with some of the real-life members of the Florida retirement community who played bit parts and extras in the film. And the third featurette is "From Death Row to the Red Carpet: The Casting of Honey Bun," seven minutes about the pound dog that was used in the movie.

In addition, there are brief trailers at start-up for "Cheaper By the Dozen 2," "The Family Stone," and "Walk the Line"; and among the special features you'll find an Inside Look at the movie "Just My Luck." The extras conclude with twenty-eight scene selections; English, French, and Spanish spoken languages; and English and Spanish subtitles.

Parting Shots:
"In Her Shoes" may be a quintessential "woman's film," but it shows enough heart probably to win over a few males along the way. To be sure, the movie loses focus, meanders, and changes tone at the drop of a wine glass, but it can be touching and revealing, too. I can't say I'd want to watch it again any time soon, but I can't say I was entirely disappointed with it, either.

People fight and people hate, but where family is concerned, love conquers all. Or, as we hear on the soundtrack, "I got you, babe." --Sonny and Cher


Film Value