Upon hearing the news of director Curtis Hanson’s death last week, I decided a rewatch of In Her Shoes was in order. Certainly he’s more associated with his noir L.A. Confidential, dark comedy Wonder Boys, or even biopic musical 8 Mile, but I have utter appreciation for his 2005 film about a complicated sisterhood. My sister and I both read the Jennifer Weiner novel (and loved it) before seeing the Hanson cinematic adaptation. During its theatrical run, I attended a screening with her, along with our housemate at the time and her sister.
Susannah Grant’s screenplay remains true to the flavor of Weiner’s novel, providing parallel stories for the sisters (even a little introductory and closing narration for each). Maggie (Cameron Diaz) and Rose (Toni Collette) are two very different personalities, although both women are self-conscious about their inhibitions. Rose, concerned about being overweight, is a workaholic lawyer with a limited social life. Maggie gets by, thoughtlessly using her family for housing and money, held back from dream job options by her reading disorder.
After a stupid decision leads to a disruption of the sisters’ detente, Maggie discovers their long-assumed-dead grandmother lives in Florida. Shirley MacLaine’s Ella is friendly to her neighbors, but not especially forthcoming about her past. In their time together, Ella and Maggie come to know each other better… and Maggie finally finds her calling. Packed into the film is also a romance, as well as a deeper look into memories of the girls’ mother/Ella’s daughter.
This is one of those rare instances when the movie is on par with the original material. Hanson assembled a strong supporting cast so that even the smaller roles are distinctive. The director also gives visual cues as a sort of psychological study of the main characters, from the set design to the overall look of the film. In Philadelphia, where Rose has to search for happiness, the colors are muted and drab. There are punches of color, but that’s nothing in comparison to the vibrant pastel palette of Florida where Ella lives.
MacLaine plays Ella as reticent and not a type to be taken in (although Maggie tries, initially). There’s a perfect moment when Ella is kissed goodbye by her man friend, and MacLaine plays bashful, with a flustered, “Well, okay.” It’s an example of the range of emotion involved in this story: from Rose’s rage and reconciliation, to Maggie’s frustration and flirtation. Although the sisters are separated for much of In Her Shoes, their connection survives and grows stronger. Their love for one another is never more evident than when Maggie surprises Rose with a poem on her wedding day… the e.e. cummings poem my sister would eventually ask me to read on her own special day.
I can’t speak to Curtis Hanson’s specific style through his span of work — although I have seen a number of his movies. I just know that this film is at times sweet and delightful, or painfully frank, and kleenex must be on hand for the conclusion.
In Her Shoes is available on VOD and DVD.
Hanson on-set photo by Sidney Baldwin.