The 'Shoes' don't fit: 'chick flick' or not, Hanson's latest is terrible

by A.J. Fox | 10/11/05 5:00am

The term "chick flick" gets tossed around a lot these days. In an era of machismo-laden action spectaculars, almost any film where the lipstick upstages the laser guns is instinctively filed in moviegoers' minds alongside movies like "Legally Blonde," "Miss Congeniality 2" and Hugh Grant's entire filmography. Given the misogynistic undertones of this rigid system of classification, I tried hard to walk into "In Her Shoes" thinking of it not as the chick flick it had been marketed as, but simply as a movie. And "In Her Shoes" is a movie, but a terrible one.

The film opens on Rose (Toni Collette), a frumpy single woman so settled in her self-perceived identity as a shlub that on the rare occasion she does sleep with a man, she takes a picture of him sleeping next to her to prove to herself later that it actually happened. In an oh-so-ominous stab of directorial foreshadowing, her photography is rudely interrupted one day by a phone call informing her that her sister Maggie (Cameron Diaz) has passed out drunk at a party and needs a ride home.

Maggie and Rose, polar opposites in every way, operate with the kind of dysfunctional co-dependence that only exists in the movies, and perhaps on reality TV. Thrown out of her parents' house, Maggie slumps down on Rose's couch and stays there for weeks, despite her sister's periodic urging that she find a job, her own apartment or even a place to go during the day.

Inevitably, domestic crisis ensues. Rose comes home to find Maggie in bed with her boyfriend and, in an uncharacteristically well-played scene, kicks both of them out of the apartment. No longer able to freeload off her sister, Maggie turns to her estranged grandmother and goes to live with her in Florida (whether or not this is plausible depends on your willingness to accept the idea of Cameron Diaz living in a retirement community).

Will Maggie learn the value of human connection and become a more mature person? Will Rose finally let her hair down and have fun with her life? Will the movie end with the sisters reuniting joyfully and discovering true love along the way? The only way to know is to see the movie or to have been born before yesterday.

The only reason the movie extends past the half-hour mark is because "Shoes" tries to have a great deal of fun before its inevitable conclusion. Too much fun, it turns out; the film's overlong midsection turns out to be its greatest problem. When Rose and Maggie go their separate ways, "Shoes" goes from cute and interesting to turgid and dull until, in a spiraling plane crash of melodrama, it descends to the level of a bad soap opera.

Almost as a courtesy, the film assigns Rose a love interest named Simon (Mark Feuerstein, typecast as the irrelevant boyfriend), an example of a pointless plot device thrown in to keep things "interesting." He's good-looking and his gimmick of guessing his date's restaurant orders is cute, but from the moment he stumbles into Rose's life, we know exactly where the relationship is going and stop caring almost as quickly.

Ultimately, "Shoes" fails to establish a consistent tone, often forgetting that it is supposed to be a "serious movie" and going for laughs that never quite click. A discussion about the complexities of the word "vagina" doesn't play well and a scene with Maggie using dish detergent to wash her boss' dog seems more contrived than funny.

Then again, I longed for such lighter moments during some of the more misconceived dramatic scenes; instead of meaningful human interaction, the screenplay offers us such gems of dialogue like "Without her, I don't make sense!" I could see Diaz and Collette struggling to bring a level of sophistication to the film's silliness: Diaz endows Maggie with a seductive grin and a sarcastic lilt, which plays off Collette's aging-nerd charm to create an onscreen chemistry so compelling that it really deserves a better movie.

The man responsible for this mess is director Curtis Hanson, known best for such gritty urban dramas as "L.A. Confidential" and "8 Mile." He's out of his element here, and it shows. Convinced that his material means more than it actually does, Hanson endows his film with a sort of deliberate importance that sucks dry any hope of entertainment that the movie might have offered. As the credits started to roll, I found myself wishing that "In Her Shoes" had turned out to be the pink piece of fluff that it was advertised as. I might have missed those meaningful life lessons about the importance of family, but I suspect I would have had a much better time.

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