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In Her Shoes

Kathleen's review of In Her Shoes: "About ten times better than I thought it would be." Seriously, it's a good movie. In an honest world, Cameron Diaz would get third billing, after Toni Collette and Shirley MacLaine. Without those two actresses, her part of the movie would be an insufferable variation on the "spoiled babe grows up" theme. By the time Ms Diaz's Maggie Feller shows a little aptitude for poetry and hard work, your attention has shifted sufficiently to Ms Collette's Rose that you don't mind how easy Maggie's resolution is. Her inspirational scenes with a character known as "The Professor" (Norman Lloyd) were bearable only because I was hoping that Rose and her grandmother, Ella (Ms MacLaine), wouldn't be stuck forever with the care and feeding of a pouty pain in the neck. Coming from a director of Curtis Hanson's capabilities, the dyslexic poetry readings were disappointingly Hollywood.

In a nutshell, In Her Shoes tells the story of sisters who lost their mother to depression in childhood, and, immediately thereafter, their grandmother, who was cut off by a father who disagreed with her about how his wife and her daughter should cope with her disease. Rose, the elder, grows up to be a big-firm associate with no time for love but a killer shoe collection. Maggie, a hopeless narcissist, is scraping bottom when she comes upon birthday cards from her grandmother that had been withheld in her father's desk drawer. (Maggie, needless to say, is rooting for cash.) When an unforgivable betrayal forces Rose to throw Maggie out, Grandma is Maggie's last chance.

Shirley MacLaine made her first movie, Alfred Hitchcock's The Trouble With Harry, fifty years ago, and so deserves a measure of slack, but she doesn't need it here. Her Ella Hirsch is a calm capable realist who guards her feelings but does not repress them. She knows when to give, and, even better, she knows how. When she catches Maggie rifling through her drawers, looking for money, she comes up with an intelligent business proposition. All of this is interesting because Ms MacLaine manages to deliberate right before your eyes, without making faces. She registers the decision to try to help her new-found granddaughter, and not to kick her out as everyone else in Maggie's life inevitably has done. You come to agree with Maggie and Ella alike, that the girls would have been better off had their grandmother fought harder to stay connected. You even share Ella's real, if low-key, grief and guilt. Ella's scenes are all deeply satisfying.

Toni Collette has a funny face. It is not conventionally beautiful, although it can be caught in momentary beauty. Its worst feature is its liveliness: there isn't an expression that Ms Collette won't throw herself into, no matter how goofy. It is great to see this terrific actress convincingly play a very bright woman, a woman who, unlike so many of Ms Collette's other roles, will not be victimized, will not take the blame for other people's shortcomings. It is also great to see Ms Collette in the hitherto unlikely position of sizing up a man whom she has dismissed and deciding that she really likes him after all. Her scenes with a cynical friend (Brooke Adams) also show the blooming of hopefulness.  

Mark Feuerstein is truly appealing in the role of Simon, the dismissed but reconsidered suitor. Like a true leading man, he makes a calm but resolute claim on your attention, and Mr Hanson gives him plenty of opportunity to do so. I look forward to his next film (something called Shut Up and Sing, apparently). Mark Isham's score, as always, is just right.


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Oh, I can't wait to see this film... I've been meaning to see it for weeks and weeks, but have been waiting for a friend to find the time to see it with me. She may have to go see it on video...

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