Directed by Curtis Hanson. USA. 2005.

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Sibling rivalry and conflict with parents seem to be common in many families and sadly they often remain frozen with neither party willing to give an inch. Curtis Hanson's In Her Shoes is a gentle comedy about one such family conflict but it is more about the possibility of growth than about how people can be intractable. Based on a novel by Jennifer Weiner, the film contains the first serious role for Cameron Diaz and one of Shirley MacLaine's career best performances as a spry grandmother who is willing to offer her support to bring some warring parties together. Dad Michael Feller (Ken Howard) has raised two girls on his own after their mentally ill mother dies. Now grown, their relationship with their father and stepmother is strained and both have had a hard time adjusting to adult life. 

Maggie (Cameron Diaz) is a sexy blonde who cannot hold a job and is given to bouts of excessive drinking. Her sister Rose (Toni Collette) is the "smart" one in the family, a lawyer who works long hours and is "responsible" and "mature" but underneath has a feeling of emptiness. Rose has an excessive amount of shoes she has in her closet. When asked about it, she says: "When I feel bad, food makes me fat, but shoes always make me feel good. They always treat me nicely." When Rose rescues Maggie from being drunk at a high school reunion, she agrees to let her stay with her until she gets a job but soon regrets her decision. Maggie tries to find work but her reading disability costs her a possible job with a television station and a number of aggravating incidents, one involving Rose's car, only make matters worse. 

When she has an affair with a lawyer in Rose's firm that her sister had been dating, it is the final straw and, after a bitter confrontation, Rose tells Maggie to leave. Maggie discovers unopened birthday cards sent to her by her long lost grandmother, Ella (Shirley MacLaine) in Florida and her choice of destination is clear. Since she is not welcome at her father's home, she heads for Florida with the idea of striking it rich, courtesy of her grandmother's generosity. Ella takes her in willingly but fears the worst. When Maggie begins working at a retirement home, however, she is able to move beyond her own insularity and give of herself to others for the first time. While there are the usual geriatric jokes, the characters are treated with respect, especially 90-year old Norman Lloyd as a blind University professor who tells Maggie that she is simply dyslexic, not mentally slow. As she reads the poem "i carry your heart" by E. E. Cummings, she begins to develop confidence in her ability to read. 

The film shifts between Maggie's life in Florida and Rose's in Philadelphia where she has given up her job in the law firm and has taken a job as a dog walker. This new job has given her the freedom to pursue other interests including a relationship with an ex-lawyer friend Simon Stein (Mark Feurstein) who takes her to exotic restaurants and introduces her to Philadelphia 76'ers basketball games. They have a lot to talk about but Maggie isn't one of them and this causes much strain in their promising courtship. There is a lot going on but the ending ties the loose ends together in a way that I found satisfying and surprisingly moving. Manipulative and formulaic? Perhaps at times, yet In Her Shoes is an intelligent look at what works and doesn't work in a family and has a core of emotional honesty that makes the cinematic clichés seem irrelevant. 


Howard Schumann
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