Someone once said that a giraffe looks like it was designed by a committee. In Her Shoes, the latest film from director Curtis Hanson (8 Mile), is a cinematic giraffe: its parts don't fit together, it's awkward, and it overreaches. It's the story of two very different Philadelphia sisters. Rose Feller, played by Australian Toni Collette (Muriel's Wedding), is a successful, somewhat frumpy and overweight lawyer whose yearning for a relationship is evidenced by her compensatory indulgence in ice cream and shoes. She scarfs up the former, collects but barely wears the latter. In fact, the film could have been titled, "The Sisterhood of the Sedentary Shoes".
Rose's sister Maggie (Cameron Diaz), is gorgeous, sexy, and totally irresponsible. She leeches off Rose, borrows her shoes, her car, and just about everything else, and lands on her couch after being thrown, dead drunk, out of their mean stepmother's house. Maggie can't hold a job, not even in the fast food industry. Her fantasy life can best be summed up in a scenario she proposes to her tight-assed sister, which is to be screwed in an alleyway by a married billionaire. (One with an airtight prenup, no doubt). Maggie's real life, alas, is about being screwed in a toilet by some anonymous pickup and puking just as things start getting romantic.
In a pre-release interview, Ms. Diaz insisted that the film is not a chick flick, but something much more universal, a serious examination of pathological family dynamics. She did mention that her character is an example of young women today being told that "sexuality is the way you move through the world." What's she been reading, 1970's back issues of Cosmopolitan? Director Hanson, in another interview, made a point of saying that this film is a departure from his prior work in that it's based, in his words, on a piece of "chick lit", the novel by Jennifer Weiner, adapted for the screen by Susannah Grant. For what it's worth, the film's opening weekend audience was 70 percent female.
This difference of opinion between director and co-star brings back the giraffe metaphor. There are just too many jarring discontinuities among the film's elements for it to fully succeed as a work of cinema, genre or sub-genre be damned. Ms. Collette, who gained twenty-five pounds for the role, creates a sympathetic, well-conceived character in sister Rose. Trouble is, she's thrown into cliche'd "poor little girl with no self-esteem and no boyfriend" situations. There's the controlling, obnoxious office-mate who comes on to her and turns her off, only to morph into being so sensitive and in touch with his feelings that she finally falls for him and I get nauseous. Then, the reexamination of her life that results in her dropping the high-powered lawyer gig for... (echoes of J-Lo in Monster-in-Law) dogwalking. It's all so... deja-vu.
The Cameron Diaz character has her moments of ditzy charm (surprise!), but she's a crude caricature in comparison with her sister. A cut-rate Holly Golightly, we see more of her legs and pantied butt than her personality. Another paradox: director Hanson makes a point of using a hand-held camera in the early scenes in order to emphasize how emotionally adrift sister Rose is, yet puts no equivalent effort into making Maggie a credible character. The hidden explanation for Maggie's problems, family issues aside, is all too pat.
At the center of the family conflict is the sister's grandmother, competently played by Shirley MacLaine. Her existence has been kept secret from the sisters, who were told that she was dead, but once the cat's out of the bag she becomes a unifying force. She lives in a senior citizens complex in Florida, populated by feisty Golden Girls clones and randy old guys whose witty asides could qualify them for the Friars Club. And here's another theme: F. Scott Fitzgerald's pronouncement notwithstanding, there are second acts in American lives, for frumpy, frustrated lawyers, boozed-up, self-centered sluts, and widowed senior citizens alike.
For all the feel-good instant solutions and heartfelt declarations of sisterly love, the film left me frustrated. Its potential diluted by the cliche'd, the overly facile, and the derivative, In Her Shoes stumbled quickly out of my memory on broken heels.
The Video: A standard 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The overall picture quality is excellent, with fine color saturation and consistency best showcased in the Florida scenes. The Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. Quality is adequate, particularly in view of the film being dialogue-driven. The music by Mark Isham (Crash) is superb as always. It enhances but never dominates the visuals. Special Features: The People in the Shoes highlights the points of view of the cast, director, and writer. The transition of novel to film is addressed, as is the symbolism depicted on screen. This is an interesting featurette with less mutual back-slapping than most. A Retirement Community for Acting Seniors showcases the often funny, sardonic non-professional extras that significantly enhanced the film. From Death Row to the Red Carpet is primarily for canineophiles. It tells the story of the pug-mutt cast in a couple of scenes as Honeybun. The pooch was rescued from the pound and trained, among other things, to pee on cue. Could there be an educational video for dogs in the making? An inside look at Lindsay Lohan's new film, Just My Luck. Just our luck! Overall: an OK rental for aficionados and 'nadas of standard, moderately entertaining sister/family/romantic stories with a predominantly female point of view.