During a diner scene in In Her Shoes, Maggie (Cameron Diaz) and Rose (Toni Collette), a pair of sisters that only the movies can concoct, trade vagina-related barbs, and the whole thing plays out like a scene from Sex and the City, minus two of the characters. (A clip from the show is even featured in the movie.) Chances are, if you don’t have a vagina, In Her Shoes might be akin to pure torture as it leaves no clichéd female-bonding stone unturned. But sadly, this fact should upset just as many women as it does men. One of the worst screenwriters working today is Susannah Grant, who trumps up the movie with TV-ish mist and phoniness in the very same way she turned Erin Brockovich into one of the new decade’s supreme frauds. (One still gets a tinge of a cringe recalling Marg Helgenberger mournfully turning to Julia Roberts and asking, “We’re gonna get them, Erin, aren’t we?”) Grant is not interested in women with true complications or inner lives, she would rather position them as banners of empowerment even as she writes them eating pints of ice cream, parading their asses, or whining about how fat they are.
As the movie barrels through its story of the two sisters, one an irresponsible, sex-equals-love party girl and her older, frumpier shoe enthusiast sib, the movie is so brisk you sometimes aren’t even aware of its extreme shortcomings. Director Curtis Hanson, who hopefully had only a momentary lapse of reason in wanting to become our new Nancy Meyers, hurtles the proceedings along so that nothing sticks. And for a supposed character study, there’s very little character. Diaz and Collette add nothing new to their acting palettes here, they’re basically repeating performances we’ve seen them give for quite some time and their natural charms seem diluted here. I can’t imagine any two actresses finding much by way of revelation in these roles, but it’s still a letdown. Maybe if some brave soul found a way to reverse their roles we’d have something.
As their grandma Ella, who abandoned the family long ago and retired to
Florida, Shirley MacLaine is the movie’s greatest asset, and she seems to know it. When Maggie heads to the Sunshine State to reconnect with the grandmother she never knew she had at a retirement community, the movie finally finds some rhythm and in too-brief shards, actually reminds you of who is directing the movie. If he accomplished nothing else, Hanson coaxes a lovely, marvelously subdued portrayal out of MacLaine that cuts right through the bullshit. Every time a scene looks like its heading to Sapville, MacLaine seems to nip it in the bud. If only the movie could have found a way to put MacLaine in every scene. Hers are the only shoes anyone could ever truly want to be in here.