Why In Her Shoes Is So Much More Than a ‘Chick Flick’
By Mandi Bierly
Cameron Diaz, Toni Collette and Shirley MacLaine star in a film that goes deeper than just a ‘makeover’ story.
No author has been more outspoken than Jennifer Weiner when it comes to opposing the use of the term “chick lit” as a dismissive label. The assumption is that any story with a female lead (or, god forbid, two) and a hint of emotion couldn’t possibly be something men would relate to. And so, Curtis Hanson’s adaptation of Weiner’s best-selling 2002 novel In Her Shoes is so satisfying: it’s not a “chick flick.” It’s a drama, about how far we’ll go for family and the struggle to both reconcile with our past and to not be afraid of making big changes for our future.
Toni Collette and Cameron Diaz star as mismatched sisters Rose and Maggie. Rose, the eldest, is a workaholic lawyer who buys stilettos when she’s feeling bad about herself, and Maggie is the aimless, unemployed screwup who actually has the time and confidence to wear them. When Rose pushes Maggie to get a job and finally grow up, a drunk Maggie strikes back by having sex with the man Rose recently bedded (a partner at her firm — one part of the movie that doesn’t quite hold up in the #MeToo era). The betrayal, which Collette makes you feel in your bones, is the breaking point in the sibling’s lopsided relationship, and where the story deepens.
With nowhere else to go, Maggie heads to Florida to visit Ella (Shirley MacLaine), the grandmother Rose and Maggie’s father severed ties with after their bipolar mother’s funeral. MacLaine received a Golden Globe nomination for her performance that rides the ebb and flow of emotions as delicately as a skipping stone. Ella, prepared to support Maggie in ways the rest of the family won’t, offers to match the money her granddaughter earns working at her retirement community’s assisted living center. It becomes a form of rehab for Maggie: she’s not tempted to drink (except when Ella uses Sex and the City reruns and cosmos to try to bond), she befriends a retired professor, who’s literally blind to her beauty and wants to hear what she says, and works through her dyslexia by reading poetry to him. She even discovers an entrepreneurial opportunity — personal shopping for the wealthy elder set — that’s so good, you’ll keep it logged in the back of your mind as a career Plan B.
What Hanson and screenwriter Susannah Grant (who also penned Erin Brockovich) do so beautifully throughout the film is balance the sisters’ journeys. Back in Philadelphia, Rose leaves the firm and becomes a dog walker while she figures out her next step (a life plan that resonates even more in today’s gig economy). She begins a very healthy, very sexy relationship with a former colleague, Simon (Mark Feuerstein), who in addition to wanting to know what’s going on in her mind wants to see her. Like, leave the lights on see her. Both sisters find the validation they’ve always envied in each other.
Of course, neither sister’s newfound happiness can be complete with the wedge between them. They earn their way back to one another, doing the work separately and then together, as Maggie learns the truth about their mother’s death and the days leading up to it. The movie gives them the time to evolve in a way that feels earnest and true, rather than through a quick fix “makeover” typically employed in female-friendly films. Its honest at the ability each of these characters (Maggie, Rose, and Ella) to change, open and grow gives the audience the hope that it’s possible for any of us.