October 14, 2005 -- “In Her Shoes” is a high-powered drama about deep divisions within a family, healing those divisions and some very funny things that happen along the way. The balance of comedy and drama is a difficult one, but this film does a perfect balancing job. It manages to have the audience laughing and crying at about the same time. While the screenplay doesn't fully explain the deep rifts separating branches of this family, it does have great dialogue and it handles the central relationship between the two sisters brilliantly.
Those two sisters, Maggie Feller (Cameron Diaz of “Charlie's Angels”) and Rose Feller (Toni Collette of “About a Boy”) have a classic love-hate relationship. Rose is a workaholic over-achiever who has a poor self-image. Maggie is a stunningly beautiful vagabond who jumps from job to job and from man to man. She often ends up living with her sister or parents when she runs out of money and friends. She is a petty thief who likes to borrow her sister's shoes, and anything else she can get her hands on. No matter what Maggie does, however, Rose can't stay mad at her very long, until she does something that Rose can't forgive.
Maggie then must find a new place to crash. While rummaging for cash in her parents' house, she discovers long lost letters addressed to her from her grandparents. Her parents had been hiding the existence of her grandparents from her for years. Maggie thought her grandparents were long dead. While her grandfather is dead, her grandmother, Ella Hirsch (Shirley MacLaine of “Bewitched”) is still very much alive. She decides to visit her at her Florida retirement community. Ella sees that Maggie needs discipline in her life and figures out a way to straighten Maggie out. There is one problem though, now that Ella knows that her letters have been withheld from her grandchildren, she needs to contact Rose. Getting Rose and Maggie back together again, however, may cause some kind of explosion.
Rose, in the meantime has moved on with her life. She has a new boyfriend, Simon Stein (Mark Feuerstein of “Abandon”) and is engaged to be married. She is having trouble making this big step forward, however, without squaring things between herself and her sister, Maggie. She has not heard from Maggie since their big fight and does not know what has happened to her, or that Maggie is now living with their long-lost grandmother. Eventually, the whole family gets together, and all of the family conflicts come bubbling to the surface again. Some are resolved. Some are not. The film has some funny movie in-jokes. In one scene Rose runs up the same steps in Philadelphia that were made famous in “Rocky.” In another scene a great-sounding band (Richard Jah Ace and the Sons of Ace) plays a reggae version of “I Got You Babe,” which was originally sung by Sonny and Cher. There was an earlier reference to Sonny and Cher in the film.
The film is carried by two phenomenal performances by Toni Collette and Cameron Diaz. While Collette is generally recognized as a great actress, and this role is tailor-made for her, Diaz is better known for her lighter roles. This the best performance I have ever seen from Diaz. It is Oscar-worthy. Shirley MacLaine, an award-winning performer, gives another fine performance here. Rounding out this fine ensemble cast is the little-known Mark Feuerstein. The supporting cast is also good, including a number of characters in Ella's retirement community. I found a couple of the characters less believable. There is the sisters' wicked stepmother, who seems to have been borrowed from Cinderella, and their clueless father, whose hatred of Ella, his mother-in-law, seems well beyond the bounds of reason. Aside from them, however, this is an exceptional film that will have you both laughing and crying. It rates a B+.
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