Most people will see the trailer for In Her Shoes and dismiss it as a chick flick, and if you don’t like them, maybe you should avoid it. But if you’re the sort of person who likes the best examples of the loosely termed chick flick genre, it’s one of the most engaging in awhile. If there was a Girly Academy Awards, In Her Shoes deserves a place among Steel Magnolias, When Harry Met Sally, Fried Green Tomatoes, The Hours and Thelma and Louise.
Interestingly, all those movies were directed by men. Likewise, the eye behind the camera on In Her Shoes belongs to Curtis Hanson, who makes up just some of the talent pedigree behind it. While not the most prolific or high profile director in Hollywood, few filmmakers have shown such a wide range in such a scant career. He’s handled a thriller (The River Wild), pulp/noir detective story (LA Confidential), Eminem’s Rocky-lite drama 8 Mile, and now a lively drama that plumbs the depths of the ties that bind with aplomb.
Most of the depth comes from the extremely talented leads. It’s easy to forget what a great actor Cameron Diaz is while she slums it in money jobs like Charlie’s Angels and Shrek. After making a small splash all those years ago in Jim Carrey vehicle The Mask, she could have gone down the famous-for-15-minutes road and just been another forgotten starlet, but she forged a unique career in arthouse films like The Last Supper and Feeling Minnesota that have ensured her longevity.
After a long absence from the screen, MacLaine is the picture of class; showing the newbies how it’s done the way Jane Fonda could have after her own long sabbatical from acting if she’d chosen something better than the asinine Monster in Law.
Then there’s our Toni, beating the rest of the Aussie influx into Hollywood by having a successful US career while Russ, Hugh and Heath were just making their names. Having made the occasional bad choice, she’s still a raw, watchable talent.
Diaz and Collette are sisters Maggie and Rose who couldn’t be more different; respectively a flighty party girl with no sense of responsibility and a frumpy, buttoned-down lawyer who hides behind her career.
Clashing over Maggie’s latest bout of refusal to act her age, Rose tries her best to wash her hands of her wayward sibling, returning to her empty life. Having discovered a stockpile of letters at her father’s house from the grandmother the girls never knew they still had, Maggie decides she’s as good as any a person to welch off and goes to Florida to find her.
Both sisters’ lives diverge and we watch them change and grow. Rose escapes not only the emptiness of her job but an office affair gone wrong by becoming a freelance dog walker and giving in to the amorous affections of former co-worker Stein (Feuerstein).
And Maggie, having found their loving but wise grandmother Ella (MacLaine), has found an equilibrium at the ‘active seniors community’ where they live that she’s never known before.
Besides the great female characters, In Her Shoes does itself a huge favour in its portrayal of men. Plenty of female-centric films play to an innate cultural belief that all men are predatory or childish and women are the faultless, long suffering creatures who have to put up with them. Hanson is as unafraid to show a male character who isn’t a rapist, wife beater, idiot or who has some nasty hidden agenda as he is to show the imperfections of the female leads (which the whole movie is indeed about).
Early scenes will make you want to slap Maggie silly for her behaviour, but the film takes the time to explain how she’s only a frightened kid trying to manage with what little she has — no different than Rose, or the rest of us either.
It’s undoubtedly a chick flick, but as anyone who’s sat through Stealth, Alexander, xXx2 or the other empty-headed blockbusters of the last 12 months knows, that’s sometimes better. If a movie about three-dimensional people trying to make their way in life and deal with their limits and talents is for girls, we should all get in touch with our feminine side.