Tuesday, October 11, 2005

REVIEW: In Her Shoes

You might not be aware of this, but... Many otherwise "normal" women have a massive fetish for footwear. Also: Ice cream is delicious but makes you fat. Elderly people are inherently poignant funny, especially elderly Jewish people.

You may also be shocked to learn that men are just impossible to deal with, that "dorky" people you overlook in your dating life often turn out to be ideal mates, that offbeat "menial" jobs can be more fulfilling/life-affirming than prestigious/high-paying ones, that self-respect is important, that it's vital to heal old family wounds in order to move on and that sisters need to stick together.

If any of the above concepts comes as a revelation to you, chances are you have had the astonishing luck of having missed every single so-called "chick flick" to have emerged since the early 1980s. If this is the case, it is likely that a great deal of the material presented in "In Her Shoes" will be new and fresh to you. If this is not the case, then you might as well prepare for the innevitability that the best-case scenario in regards to your reaction to this film may be to find it a good but not-quite-good-enough retread of some extremely tired terrain.

The director is Curtis Hanson, late of "L.A. Confidential," who seems to like a challenge. Previously, he put his good name on the line with "8 Mile," a feature-length infomercial for the background-mythology of Eminem's rap persona, and wound up making as good a film as probably could be made from such weak, suspect material. Now he turns his eye on similarly beneath-his-stature material, namely a by-the-numbers rom-com dramedy based on the book from chick-lit staple Jennifer Weiner. Someone needs to tell Mr. Hanson that just because making a not-terrible film from certain material might be possible doesn't mean it's actually worth doing.

Here's the gist of the plot: Slutty, immature Maggie May (Cameron Diaz) gets summarily booted from her gig freeloading with her sister Rose (which she deserves) and with her father (which she doesn't.) Discovering that her presumed-dead maternal granny (Shirley MaClaine) is actually alive in a Miami retirement home, Maggie goes looking for her. Meanwhile, the issues which led her to spurn Maggie have thrown career-minded, plain-jane Rose (Toni Collete) into a life-crisis but also seems to be opening new and interesting employment and romance opportunities for her...

In short order, Maggie finds herself "adopted" by grandma and her elderly pals, who take it upon themselves to impart their life's wisdom and help her mature into some semblance of self-reliance (a blind, retired professor sets about curing her near-illiteracy, as well.) Rose finds herself dating a coworker she'd previously dismissed but who turns out to be The Greatest Man In The Known Universe, not only sensitive and a dining expert but capable of enjoying reading aloud from romance novels for her amusement. There's a few more paralell plots and subplots as well, all necessary in order to mark time until the Big Scene where the sisters and grandma reunite, reconnect and share the full truth of the Big Unspoken involving their deceased, mentally-troubled mother.

The producers don't want you to call this a "chick flick," which should tell you three things: 1.) That it is a chick-flick, that they know most chick-flicks suck and that they know many will make the connection and avoid the film. The fact is, it's a good example of this blighted genre but not QUITE good enough to stand above it. It is "just another chick-flick," and it never rises above the genre in the way that, say, "King Kong" and "Bride of Frankenstein" were "more than just monster movies" or "2001" was "more than just another space movie" or "Lord of The Rings" was "more than just a fantasy movie."

Yet... "not good enough" isn't the same as "bad," and there's actually a lot to like here once you get past the fact that it is content to adhere to the staples of the forumla with devotion rivaling that of a Palestinian bus-bomber. For all of it's mandatory gynocentricity, it's male characters are treated with uncommon depth, and it takes the steps necessary for us to understand that Maggie and Rose are equally screwed-up in their own ways. What would at first seem to be the biggest cliche', the Greek Chorus of elderly Jewish retirees, actually leads to some of the funnier and more touching bits on display.

And a key scene (probably THE key scene) near the end wherein Maggie begins, for the first time, to form an objective and adult view of her mother features probably the best acting of Diaz's career. (It can't quite fix the nagging problem that Cameron Diaz looks about as convincingly Jewish as Jet Li, though.)

So it IS, with appologies to the earnest producers, just another chick flick. But among it's kind it's a good example, and taken all together I'm reccomending it.