When LA Confidential hit the screens in 1997, I fell into a state of deep adoration. Adoration for Curtis Hanson, a director I hadn't heard much from over the years. Sure, there was the promising The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, way back in 1992, but my appreciation for that film had more to do with the many talents of my beloved Rebecca De Mornay than with Curtis Hanson's directing skills. The formulaic aspects of the film's plot only foreshadowed the director's mediocre thriller The River Wild, which would come a couple years later. None of his previous work even hinted at the narrative strength and noir stylings of LA Confidential. I was a sudden devoted fan of Mr. Hanson, and I even loved his follow-up, 2000's Wonder Boys, for its sweet, pot-glazed characterizations and rambling storyline. Admittedly, I tuned out for 8 Mile, having no interest in the subject matter, but I thought now was the time to throw my support back into the Hanson camp. Perhaps I should have waited. Hanson's latest, In Her Shoes, is an unfortunate misstep, a return to the rote familiarity of earlier efforts in his career.
I approached In Her Shoes with an open mind. Friends and colleagues had warned me that the film was an unrepentant "chick flick." I thought about that, conjuring images of Terms of Endearment and Steel Magnolias and Fried Green Tomatoes, and I realized that I have no particular bias against movies made for women. I dismissed the warning and plopped the disc in the player, wholeheartedly placing myself into the capable hands of director Curtis Hanson. Surely, even if the movie could accurately be described as a "chick flick," this would be a reinvention of the genre, some brilliant feminist deconstruction.
Naw, it's just a chick flick.
It was with disappointment tinged with astonishment that I watched In Her Shoes play out before me. Based on a novel by Jennifer Weiner, the film is a slick and sugary study of sisterhood that seems—at first—poised to chart some difficult territory, but the film about-faces at a certain point and becomes manipulative, saccharine, and heart-breakingly ordinary. And like that—despite the heights he achieved at the end of the 20th century—Curtis Hanson's name gets scratched off that exclusive list I keep memorized: that list of film directors whom I trust implicitly, film directors who can do no wrong. In Her Shoes is forgettable and wrong-headed.
It starts off interestingly, as well-to-do lawyer Rose (Toni Collette) reluctantly comes to the aid of her lazy, seemingly estranged, and very drunk sister Maggie (Cameron Diaz), who's been sailing through life on the benefit of sex appeal. There's a lot of boiling hostility between these two, no thanks to the broken family they've apparently sprung from. Their personalities couldn't be at farther ends of the spectrum. These women hate each other, and that animosity is no better illustrated by a mid-movie event that is so hurtful and wicked that Rose (and the audience) can be forgiven for never wanting anything to do with Maggie again.
It's at this point that In Her Shoes is at a turning point. Explore unique chick-flick territory by becoming something with uncommon depth, or fall back on sentimentality and easy feel-good resolutions. I felt sure that Hanson would go for the former, but no, instead, he travels that well-trod path. Maggie manages to contact her long-lost grandmother, Ella (Shirley MacLaine) down at a Florida retirement community, shacks up with her, and learns exactly the essential life lessons that she needs to learn, thanks in no small part to the bevy of colorful senior-citizen personalities that she encounters there. Meanwhile, Rose finds peace and a boyfriend and a deeper understanding, and she learns that she actually loves her vicious, conniving sister. "Without her," she says, "I don't make sense!" she screams to her beau.
And this reviewer shouts, No! Again, No! This film hasn't earned the right to go in this direction! The final act of In Her Shoes is narratively infuriating. Maggie's ascension to responsible adult is quick and total, a completely false about-face. A long-held family grudge is forgiven on all sides, with just a few words. Rose's romance is far too fabulous and perfect. And all the easy wrap-ups are made more unfortunate because of the potential for good storytelling the film had at the start. I'm normally a sucker for films about forgiveness—and you could definitely call In Her Shoes a film steeped in forgiveness—but the emotional heft that you should be feeling toward the end of this film dissolves in a tidal wave of predictability and chick-flick aw-shucks platitudes.
It's all too bad, considering that talent on all sides of the filmmaking equation. Looking past Hanson for the moment, let's not forget the top-tier acting talent involved. Toni Collete is really quite wonderful in a role that contains multitudes at the start but devolves along with the rest of the film into warm-hearted misfortune. Cameron Diaz is actually terrific as Maggie, capturing the right balance between sexpot and human being—that is, until her role becomes outright unbelievable. Shirley MacLaine is the big winner here, in my eyes. It's nice to see her still delivering performances full of spontaneity and shrewdness.
If only Curtis Hanson had been in her shoes.
Fox gives us In Her Shoes in a pretty good anamorphic-widescreen transfer of the film's original 2.35:1 theatrical presentation. Detail is impressive, reaching into backgrounds, and color appears accurately rendered. Blacks are deep and solid. I noticed several instances of noticeably intentional grain.
The disc's Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation is just fine, offering clear, resonant dialog in this dialog-heavy film, with no breakups at the top end. However, this track isn't terribly active, preferring to remain up front and not employing the surround channels to any considerable degree. The film's score comes across best, filling the channels with mood.
The DVD contains a disappointing selection of bonus features. I would've liked to listen to Hanson defend his attempt at the chick-flick genre at length in a commentary track, or at least something with a little more depth than the three short featurettes the disc offers.
The only featurette worth your time is The People in the Shoes (16 minutes), which offers contributions from Hanson, Collette, Diaz, MaClaine, and others about the making—and meaning—of the film. Some of the thoughts thrown out here are interesting, but all I could think was that the intended flourishes were in service of a story that just doesn't end up hitting the right notes.
Rounding out the extras are A Retirement Community for Acting Seniors (11 minutes) and From Death Row to Red Carpet: The Casting of Honey Bun (8 minutes), which are fluffy at best.
An unfortunate misstep in what was becoming a brilliant career, In Her Shoes starts with promise but ends up a forgettable, by-the-numbers drama with a too-easy series of resolutions. Let's hope Mr. Hanson finds his way with his next project. If you end up giving this film a try at the rental shop, and you fall for its sappy charms, be sure to take a look at the one informative featurette among the extras, so that you can illuminate your understanding of the film.