In Her Shoes review by Mike Long

In recent history, a new term has emerged to describe a particular sub-genre of films -- "chick flick". This usually refers to a movie which features predominantly female characters addressing predominantly female issues. In other words, these are movies which typically don't appeal to men. Over time, "chick flick" has become somewhat of a derogatory word, as these films are often perceived as being overly dramatic and poorly written. That isn't the case when a "chick flick" features a Oscar-winning director and skilled actors, such as with In Her Shoes. Yes, this is still a "chick flick" -- perhaps the ultimate "chick flick" -- but at least it's well-made.

In Her Shoes focuses on the Feller sisters, who are seemingly complete opposites. Older sister Rose (Toni Collette) is a successful attorney who is very conservative. She lives alone, never dates, and hoards a collections of sexy high-heeled shoes which she doesn't have the nerve to wear. Maggie (Cameron Diaz) is a semi-literate, unemployed party girl who is used to getting by on her looks and having men fawn over her. Following an embarrassing, drunken night, Rose allows Maggie to stay in her apartment. However, things quickly go sour as Maggie destroys some of Rose's belongings and intervenes in a relationship which Rose is trying to spark. Downtrodden, Maggie goes to her parent's house. While searching for money (did I mention that she's a petty thief?), Maggie discovers a cache of unopened birthday cards, addressed to herself and Rose, from a grandmother which she didn't know that she had. Hoping to scam some money from the old lady, Maggie heads to Florida.

At this same time, Rose is enjoying the freedom of not having to worry about Maggie and takes a new leash on life (literally). She begins to date and actually wears some of the shoes from her collection. Meanwhile, Maggie has moved in with her grandmother, Ella (Shirely MacLaine), in a "retirement community for active seniors". Finding that Ella is no pushover, Maggie is forced to get a job, and begins to feel at home in her new surroundings. As the story progresses, all three of these women go through changes, and when Rose learns of Ella's existence, a long-needed resolution is faced.

Again, in case you missed it before, In Her Shoes is most decidedly a "chick flick". The movie explores the emotional struggles between the two sisters and the larger implications of the female roles which they represent. Rose is the stereotypical workaholic who strives to keep up in the business world, leaving little time for herself. She considers herself homely, and her dull outward appearance mirrors her inner attitude. Rose works very hard and while she has monetary success, she still feels empty. On the other hand, Maggie has only had a series of menial labor and retail jobs, which she couldn't keep. Her intellectual short-comings affect her self-esteem, but she attempts to overcompensate, using her looks and sex appeal. Maggie is in denial about the fact that this situation could ever change. When Ella enters the picture, the film also takes on issues involving motherhood and parenting. While there are male characters in the film, the movie never takes the time to see the world through their eyes.

The first third of In Her Shoes, when the initial story is being introduced, moves very slowly and feels awfully familiar. I feared that I was in for a bumpy "chick flick" ride. But, the latter half of the film, when the sisters begin to reverse roles, works much better and the story takes on new life. This is because the movie avoids most of the typical "chick flick" pitfalls. This isn't a cutesy Sandra Bullock movie (no offense to Bullock). These women have real problems and they are addressed in a direct manner. Yes, In Her Shoes has some funny moments, but it never devolves into a silly, sappy mess. The movie also gets points for eschewing the standard "hunky" man role. Chiseled Richard Burgi (known to Desperate Housewives fans as Susan's ex-husband) appears briefly, but that's about it.

In Her Shoes features female characters who are willing to take chances, and the same could be said for those involved in the film. Kudos to Cameron Diaz for taking on a character who, on the surface, looks like yet another of her "babe" characters, but who is actually a sleazy, unlikable person. Also, much credit must be given to director Curtis Hanson. The L.A. Confidential director has certainly shown a knack for trying different things, such as making 8 Mile and directing an episode of Greg the Bunny, and he brings his much-needed dramatic sense of story-telling to this film. The movie could have veered off onto several unnecessary tangents, but Hanson keeps things moving along, and despite a slow opening, the films 2-hour-plus length never feels dragged out.

Given the big names involved in this film, In Her Shoes was considered a box-office disappointment. I can only assume that audiences thought that the film would be yet another "margaritas and dancing" "chick flick". But, I'm here to tell you, any female-slanted drama which holds my attention is worth checking out if you're in the mood for a serious, sometimes sad, drama.

In Her Shoes walks onto DVD courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film is coming to DVD in two separate releases, one full-frame and the other widescreen. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The transfer looks very good, as the image is sharp and clear. There is no overt grain on the picture, nor are there any defects from the source material. The colors look very good and the framing appears to be accurate. I noticed some mild edge-enhancement issues, but no problems with artifacting. The DVD features a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects in the film are noticeably good, as the sounds perfectly match the on-screen action. The surround sound effects come into play with street noise or musical cues, but there's not much in the way of bass response.

Perhaps due to the film's poor reception in theaters, there aren't many extra features on the DVD. "The People in the Shoes" (16 minutes) is a featurette which explores the characters in the film. Through interviews with the cast and crew, as well as source novel author Jennifer Weiner, we learn more about the characters. One of the most interesting aspects here is director Curtis Hanson explaining how he shot Maggie and Rose to convey their inner moods. "A Retirement Community for Acting Seniors" (11 minutes) profiles the actual residents of the retirement community where the film was shot and how they were used as extras. Finally, "From Death Row to the Red Carpet: The Casting of Honey Bun" (8 minutes) outlines how the dog used in the film was found.

7 out of 10 Jackasses

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