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Less than the some of its parts

By Lady Liberty
web posted October 17, 2005

In Her Shoes

* out of ****

In Her ShoesAll of the major films opening this weekend (for the record, I consider North Country a major film, but it isn't yet showing in my local theatres) were getting terrible reviews, so I opted to see a better-reviewed movie that opened last weekend instead. I can't imagine I came out of the theatre a whole lot happier than I would have been had I seen one of the others. In Her Shoes is something like its reviews: mixed. Unfortunately, as far as I'm concerned, it's also quite a bit less than the sum of its parts.

Maggie Feller (Cameron Diaz) is a sexy, happy-go-lucky party girl, willing to drink to excess and to sleep with just about anyone at the drop of a hat. Her older sister Rose (Toni Collette), however, is Maggie's polar opposite: a serious, responsible, and conservative lawyer. As the story begins, Maggie is still living with her father and her stepmother (Ken Howard and Candice Azzara), but her incessant partying gets her booted out and lands her on her sister's couch. Rose loves her younger sister, but she's finally managed to attract a boyfriend and fears that Maggie will just complicate matters.

Sure enough, Maggie causes trouble. She won't get a job, though Rose helps her write a resume and leaves help wanted ads on the table and (yes, really) in the refrigerator. But Maggie's uneven job history combined with her academic shortcomings make it tough for her to get employment. Maggie also leaves Rose's apartment a mess, steals cash and jewelry from Rose, and then to top it all off, sleeps with Rose's new boyfriend. When she's caught, Rose summarily boots her out on the street.

As she tries to figure out where she'll go next, Maggie's incessant snooping for something worth stealing leads her to discover that she has a grandmother she's never met. In desperation, Maggie spends all of her cash on a ticket to Florida to find her long lost relative. Ella Hirsch (Shirley Maclaine) is widowed and living in a retirement community when Maggie shows up. Though surprised, Ella welcomes her granddaughter. Until, that is, Maggie gets up to her old tricks.

Over the course of some months, however, the tough but caring Ella manages to get Maggie's attention. Meanwhile, Rose takes a step back from her workaholic life and decides to take a break. When she does, her attention is also drawn to a former co-worker who's admired her from afar for months. Simon Stein (Mark Feuerstein) and his relationship with Rose does as much to change her as Ella's efforts do for Maggie. But after all that's happened, will the two sisters ever really be close again?

Cameron Diaz is, I believe, much overrated. That being said, she was perfectly adequate in her role here. Toni Collette is very good (her Oscar nomination for her role in The Sixth Sense was no fluke); Shirley Maclaine lives up to her reputation and is the embodiment of the cantankerous Ella. Mark Feuerstein makes Simon just as likeable and as earnest as he needs to be, while loathing stepmother Sydelle as much as you will is testament to the abilities of Candice Azzara.

In Her Shoes is based on a best selling book by Jennifer Weiner. Screenwriter Susannah Grant wrote the wonderful Erin Brockovich, and co-wrote the appealing Ever After. Director Curtis Hanson has the award-winning L.A. Confidential on his résumé. History and experience like this should have resulted in a tour de force, and yet it didn't. Despite their obvious talents, the fault lies largely with the script and secondarily with the direction. Then, of course, there's the not-so-small factor of casting — or miscasting, as the case may be.

The movie moved at a glacially slow pace from start to finish. It was predictable, and worse, was trite. Some lines went beyond trite and well into the realm of "real people don't talk like that." Toni Collette, who gained weight for the role, might now actually fill out a size 10 dress (the average American woman is a 14-16, by the way), yet there were incessant comments concerning the fact that Rose was "fat." Maggie supposedly had some sort of reading disability, yet Diaz (and the director) chose to show that disability manifested in (are you ready?) her reading a word flawlessly; pausing; reading another word without hesitation; pausing; reading another word; and so on.

Worst of all, in a movie that was supposed to make me feel something (happy, sad, amused, whatever), I quite literally felt nothing but bored. Lest you wonder, that's not a particularly good recommendation for a film in my mind. There will probably be some women who will like the movie simply because it focuses on women, two of whom are actually competent on their own (it's possible that just as many will be offended by the idea that the lawyer wants a man so badly, and the screw-up sister gets what she wants by virtue of her looks and freely given sex), but for me, the fact that a story is about women doesn't make it better.

Either a movie is good, or it isn't. And though the parts and pieces of this one are quite well done, the end result is significantly less.

FAMILY SUITABILITY: In Her Shoes is rated PG-13 for "thematic material, language, and some sexual content." Though I didn't have a problem with the thematic material or language for those 13 and up, I do think the sexual content was a little much, even for kids that age. I'd personally consider the material more appropriate for those of about 15 or 16 and up. That is, of course, if you want to risk actually being one of those who likes the movie...

Lady Liberty is a graphic designer and pro-freedom activist currently residing in the Midwest. More of her writings and other political and educational information is available on her web site, Lady Liberty's Constitution Clearing House, at http://www.ladylibrty.com. E-mail Lady Liberty at ladylibrty@ladylibrty.com.

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