[Screen It]

(2005) (Cameron Diaz, Toni Collette) (PG-13)

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Dramedy: After they have a falling out, two distinctively different sisters rediscover themselves, each other, and their long estranged grandmother.
Rose (TONI COLLETTE) and Maggie Feller (CAMERON DIAZ) are sisters who couldn't be more different if they were strangers. Rose is a successful if frumpy and slightly overweight lawyer who's shocked when she manages to bed her boss, Jim Danvers (RICHARD BURGI), since she doesn't otherwise have much luck with men. Maggie, on the other hand, is an unemployed partygoer who has no problem having casual sex, such as with a former classmate at a high school reunion.

Her partying ways, however, eventually are too much for her step-mom Sydelle (CANDICE AZZARA) who kicks her out of her and husband Michael's (KEN HOWARD) house. With nowhere else to go, Maggie moves in with Rose, but her lifestyle, not to mention her seducing Jim while Rose is away, eventually drives a wedge between them, with Rose ordering Maggie out.

Desperate for a new start, Maggie heads south for a surprise visit to her widowed grandmother, Ella Hirsch (SHIRLEY MacLAINE), who hasn't seen the sisters since they were girls due to circumstances beyond her control. Ella is surprised but happy about the visit, and manages to convince Maggie to get a job in a nearby nursing home, all while Maggie tries to convince her grandma to get to know widower Lewis Feldman (JERRY ADLER) who's obviously sweet on her.

Rose, meanwhile, has left the legal world and started her own pet walking service, all while getting to know former coworker Simon Stein (MARK FEUERSTEIN) who's as passionate about her as he is the rest of his life. With the sisters in opposite parts of the country, they rediscover themselves and learn things about each other, their grandmother and the past tragic situation that changed their lives forever.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
At a recent sneak preview of "In Her Shoes," my wife -- who had previously read the novel on which it's based -- explained the basic premise -- about two sisters, one gorgeous, the other frumpy, and their interaction with each other -- to a fellow critic. Upon hearing that Cameron Diaz was playing the beautiful one, my associate -- who shall remain anonymous -- immediately replied with a playful sarcasm that if Ms. Diaz were her sister, she'd have to kill herself. She then amended that to offing the famous actress first and then herself.

Accordingly, those responsible for adapting Jennifer Weiner's "chick lit" novel of the same name should be pleased. That's not because they have any ill intent toward the famous actress, but rather that they got the casting and desired reaction down pat. After all, what woman wouldn't feel somewhat second-rate in the presence of Diaz's long-legged, stunning looks and girl next door playfulness?

That's exactly how Rose Feller feels, although, of course, the star of "There's Something About Mary" and the "Charlie's Angels" flicks isn't really her sister, but instead plays her up on the screen. Thus the setup of this surprisingly entertaining and mostly engaging "chick flick." I'll admit this isn't my favorite genre, and I can see why some will still be bothered by the whole thing or at least bits and pieces of it.

For one, it's way too long (at 130 some minutes) for this sort of offering and it contains the obligatory genre elements (melodrama and related revelations, montages, adorable animals, overt symbolism, fallings-out and reunions, etc. as well as cute and/or amusing senior citizens) that could be the nails down the blackboard equivalent for certain viewers.

Yet, due to some slight variations on that sort of material, other good writing (including some funny bits of dialogue), solid performances from the leads and some supporting characters, and an able, veteran hand behind the camera, the results are much better than one might have guessed or expected.

In a way, the film is something akin to "Bridget Jones's Sister." Like that other work, this one features a middle-aged, single woman who occasionally gets it on with the opposite sex but can't believe it when it happens. That's especially true considering that she's a little bit overweight and not much of a social butterfly. In fact, after bedding her own boss, she takes a photo of him sleeping in her bed for later, after the fact proof. Then there's the similar, observational voice-over narration that's occasionally heard, but thankfully doesn't run rampant over the production.

The wonderful Toni Collette ("About a Boy," "The Sixth Sense") is pitch-perfect in the role, exuding insecurities without being annoying, cloying or repetitive. As the pivotal and catalytic sister, Diaz is a fun addition to the Bridget Jones themed world and the actress is also good in her role.

Not surprisingly, both adapt, grow and emerge as characters following their big falling-out that sends Cameron's character south into the house of her long absent grandmother impeccably played by Shirley MacLaine ("Bewitched," "Terms of Endearment"). The change of scenery provides for new humor, chances for Diaz to show off her shapely bod in skimpy swimwear, as well as the film's more serious subject matter.

While it thankfully doesn't weigh down the seriocomic tone too much, it is a decidedly melodramatic turn of events that some will love (those being fans of tearjerkers) and others will tolerate or loathe (most everyone else), which also holds true for all of the old folks material (that comes in both humorous and poignant varieties).

My only real complaint -- beyond obviously agreeing with bits and pieces of the above commentary -- is that the titular symbolism is a bit too obvious, yet doesn't quite live up to its description in getting the sisters to see the life of the other and what makes them tick -- while living in those heels. It's not a huge deal and the latter slightly happens by default, but I was expecting something a bit cleverer from the script by Susannah Grant ("Erin Brockovich," "Ever After").

Director Curtis Hanson, who usually focuses more on male characters in the likes of "L.A. Confidential," "Wonder Boys" and "8 Mile," seems perfectly at ease with his mostly female dominated cast and storyline. While nothing spectacular, his direction is confident and assured, wisely never going too cutesy or manipulative (although moments of both are present).

While the otherwise generic subject matter circumvents any chance of the film equaling Hanson's best output, it's nevertheless a decently told and surprisingly entertaining and engaging chick flick, even for those who normally wouldn't cross the street in any sort of footwear to see any such film. "In Her Shoes" rates as a 6 out of 10.

Reviewed September 24, 2005 / Posted October 7, 2005

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