“In Her Shoes” is a battle royale, all right, but not between two polar opposite sisters as the ads suggest.
No, the film is a death match between a well-worn chick flick and a mature character study helmed by “L.A. Confidential’s” Curtis Hanson.
More than two hours later, the referee stops the fight and declares the chick flick winner by TKO.
That won’t dissuade fans of the Jennifer Weiner book from trying on these “Shoes,” nor can it dampen a glorious, flinty performance by Shirley MacLaine.
“Shoes” follows two sisters who alternately love and revile each other
with good reason. Maggie (Cameron Diaz) lives to flirt, drink and hustle money from anyone who can keep her hedonistic lifestyle afloat. Occasionally, that means turning to big sister Rose (Toni Collette), the proverbial prim-and-proper type, whose only frivolity is a closet stacked with shoes.
—The two are forced together when Maggie gets kicked out of their (wicked) stepmother’s home. Rose tries to help Maggie find a job, but Maggie isn’t interested in hard work, or growing up for that matter. When Maggie has a fling with Rose’s new beau, their always simmering relationship explodes.
In one of many tortured plot turns, Maggie ends up in Florida, chasing down a grandmother (Miss MacLaine) neither sister previouslyadded ‘previously’ cwle, Rose decides to leave her law firm and takes up professional dog walking to clear her mind of her failed relationships. (No chick flick is complete without lots of poochie close-ups.) That doesn’t stop fellow lawyer Simon (Mark Feuerstein) from doggedly pursuing Rose, a courtship so divorced from reality it belongs in a cheap romance novel.
Grandma Ella, meanwhile, is trying to get to know her granddaughter and give her the maternal structure she’s lacked since her mother died years earlier. That death is the film’s emotional core, a section handled with so much grace by cast and crew that it conceals its soapy origins.
An in-his-prime James L. Brooks might have pulled “Shoes” off — he did with his 1983 tear-jerker “Terms of Endearment.” But there Mr. Brooks had his own script to work with, while “Shoes” screenwriter Susannah Grant can’t find the right balance between reality and female wish fulfillment.
Mr. Hanson wrings wonderful performances out of his leads, and the production lacks those bubble-gum ditties that artificially sweeten most mainstream films aimed at women. Yet every time the director delivers a finely controlled moment, such as Simon reading a trashy novel to a smitten Rose, another pre-packaged emotion comes our way.
Eventually, we’re left with a sappy epilogue for characters who likely can never live happily ever after. Mr. Hanson has clearly thrown in the towel by this point, letting Miss Diaz recite an E.E. Cummings poem not once but twice to hammer home the life lessons.
There’s poetry aplenty with “In Her Shoes,” but you have to page through plenty of piffle to get to it.