Directors like Curtis Hanson, who appreciate a good screenplay and know what to do with it, are rare in modern Hollywood, where the writer is despised. Hanson started out as a screenwriter, and has retained his sense of structure and efficiency. The basis of his new movie, In Her Shoes , is a good adapted screenplay by Susannah Grant. Each scene has a single purpose, and they string together, if not exactly like pearls, at least like one of those colorful candy necklaces.
Cameron Diaz plays Maggie, the younger of two polar-opposite sisters. She has the kind of unfairly leggy, chesty body that many women resent. She’s also a total tramp. The older sister, Rose (Toni Collette), is a workaholic lawyer with a freezer full of Häagen-Dazs and a closet full of designer shoes she buys on impulse but never wears.
After a failed drunken debauch in the bathroom at her high school reunion, Maggie washes up on Rose’s couch. Rose doesn’t find this behavior cute anymore, but she would never turn her sister out. Soon, Maggie gets up to her old tricks: wearing Rose’s shoes, stealing her money, and dreaming instead of getting a job.
Rose has had a one-night stand with a partner in the law firm, and hopes he will at least become her first adult affair. Remember that Maggie, who has sex with every man in sight, is sleeping on the couch. You can guess where this is going. In the resulting war of words, the sisters inflict the kind of wounds that take years to heal, if ever. With her last two hundred ill-gotten dollars, on a long shot, Maggie catches a bus to Deerfield Beach, Florida, a pink haven for gray heads. Maybe her grandmother is still alive, and will put her up.
Ella (Shirley MacLaine) is very much alive, and her late entrance greatly deepens the film. She had to bury a daughter, which made her tough, but she’s happy with her life. Her friends at the assisted living center warn her that Maggie is trouble. But if Ella can straighten out the vagabond blonde, she can restore the broken family’s female line.
For her part, Rose may be slowing down enough to notice Simon (Mark Feurerstein), another guy from work, who has always liked her. He has a unique method of seduction, involving sushi and romance novels. (I wonder if it really works?)
Curtis Hanson started with clockwork thrillers, made a great noir, and a wonderful comedy. In addition to different genres, he’s interested in different kinds of people. I saw In Her Shoes with an audience of college women; the movie should also appeal to the elderly. I’m thirty-four, and I liked it, too, though I found it exhausting. It’s wise enough about families that it knocked some things loose inside me.
In Her Shoes is playing at Showplace West. This and other theater and music reviews can be found on the web at wfiu.indiana.edu. Reviewing movies for WFIU, this is Peter Noble-Kuchera.