Monday, October 24, 2005

In Her Shoes

    When gorgeous younger sister Maggie (Cameron Diaz) gets drunk at her 10th high school reunion she calls her sister Rose (Toni Collette) to come and get her. Their dominating step-mother Sydelle (Candace Azzara) refuses to let Maggie stay at the family home again because of her continual self-destructive behavior so Rose takes Maggie to her apartment. But Maggie, who is dyslexic, not only cannot get and keep a job, she refuses to try. She helps herself to Rose’s gorgeous shoe collection, and trashes the place. Rose, an attorney who is less attractive than Maggie, comes home from work one day to find Maggie in bed with Rose’s law partner boy friend. Rose kicks Maggie out.           

      During Maggie’s brief stay at her parents’ home she had gone through all the drawers pilfering cash and came across birthday cards with the cash gifts still in them that her grandmother Ella (Shirley MacLaine)had sent her and Rose over the years. Their rich doormat of a father Michael (Ken Howard) had never wanted the girls to have a relationship with their grandmother after his wife’s death because of Ella’s interfering ways. Neither Maggie nor Rose, it turns out, even knew they had grandparents.

     Instead of going to New York, Maggie takes the train to hoping Grandma is rich.

     Ella is thrilled at first to have Maggie visit but wonders where Rose is. Now a widow, Ella lives alone in a retirement village and helps other residents with their shopping. Maggie struts her stuff in front of the senior citizens, basks in the sun, and refuses to work. Ella really wants Maggie’s "vacation" to be over and when she discovers Maggie going through her drawers looking for money, Ella challenges her. If Maggie will take a job in the rest home facility, Ella will match her pay, penny for penny.

     Ella is the grandmother every child needs in this spin-off of the Cinderella story. Ella challenges Maggie to grow up, and to develop the good character she knows is buried beneath the beautiful face and body. Ella also goes in search for Rose, who needs her grandmother’s loving, magic wand, too. The reason Rose spends so much money on shoes is to make herself feel better, because “shoes always fit.”

     I liked all the characters but Shirley MacLaine shines as Ella. She has a pair of shoes of her own suggesting that every woman needs a fairy grandmother to love her. The supporting retirement center cast made up of Jerry Adler, who as Lewis Feldman has a crush on Ella, and Francine Beers as the wry and kind Mrs. Lefkowitz, are a charming ensemble that embraces both Maggie and Rose. The well-crafted script was written by Susanna Grant (Erin Brockovich) and based on the best-selling book by Jennifer Weiner.

     Even though Maggie’s pre-transformation behavior may make some viewers uncomfortable, stay with it. In Her Shoes is about seeing ourselves and others. It’s about growing-up, empathy, family, mental illness, sibling rivalry, acceptance, romance, mentoring young people, transformation, character, humor, pathos, and lots of forgiveness and reconciliation. It is never a chick flick, never trite but a rare and intelligent woman’s movie worth seeing.

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