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In Her Shoes (9/10)

by Tony Medley

I go to the movies every Friday night with my friend and former doubles partner, Edie. Since I’ve been a film critic for the past several years, we are generally limited to the films I haven’t seen, which are few and far between. This week, however, there were three major films which I had not seen at screenings for one reason or another, so I told Edie that she could pick the film out of those three. She chose #3 on my list, “In Her Shoes.” I was not looking forward to what looked like the quintessential chick flick, but I went without a whimper when Edie said she’d take full responsibility.

After the first five minutes I was thinking that this was going to be among the longest two hours of my life, but I hung in there. What a surprise! This is nothing like it’s been advertised, nothing like the trailer, and nothing like what I expected, which was a stupid comedy. To the contrary, there are as many tears as laughs in this poignant, frank-talking, deeply nuanced story of two sisters, Maggie (Cameron Diaz) and Rose (Toni Collette) and their love-hate relationship.

I’ve never been a fan of Diaz, but she made her bones with me in this role as the apparently ditsy, profligate sister. She makes you hate Maggie at the outset, but you slowly tend to change your mind.

 Rose is a strait-laced, lovelorn, pudgy attorney who is victimized by Maggie, and feels worthless, even after Simon Stein (Mark Feuerstein) enters her life. The only fashionable clothes in Rose’s closet are shoes, many, many pairs, because, given her Reubenesque physique (not visible to me, frankly; I thought she looked pretty good) shoes are the only item that always fit; ergo the title.

Their grandmother, Ella Hirsch (Shirley Maclaine), who they thought was dead, enters the picture and the film takes a topsy-turvy twist. Ella lives in a home for the elderly in Florida that looked like Paradise to me. Although there are some comedic moments in this film, due mainly to Ella’s friend, Mrs. Lefkowitz (Francine Beers), this is a deadly serious film from a terrific script (Susannah Grant, based on the novel by Jennifer Weiner), a study of two sisters who think they hate each other when it’s really love, one who thinks she’s dumb when she isn’t and the other who thinks she’s ugly when she really isn’t. The brilliance of this script is the way it tells the story of Rose, who thinks she’s ugly and wants to be beautiful like her sister Maggie and Maggie who thinks she’s dumb and wants to be smart like her sister Rose. Each wants what the other has and each has built up tremendous resentment for the other, which gets in the way for the innate love they have for one another.

Sure, it’s a chick flick because it’s full of chicks. The only men are Rose’s two boy friends, an old-timer, Louis Feldman (Jerry Adler), who pursues Ella, and a professor (Norman Lloyd) who helps Maggie to appreciate herself. It’s a chick flick that respects men and the contribution they make to women's lives, which sets it apart from the feminist mantra displayed in films like “Under the Tuscan Sun” (2003), which marginalize all men as superfluous or bad guys.

When it was over I asked Edie to give it a number. She said six. I looked at her in disbelief. “That’s all?” She said that she really thought it was an 8, but was afraid I’d be all over her like ugly on an ape because she thought I was sitting there hating it. “Why did you think that?” I asked.

“Because you just sat there with your chin resting on your hand, never moving,” she said.

That was because, although the film is too long, at over two hours, I was mesmerized.

October 8, 2005