A review of “In Her Shoes” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: PG-13 for language, adult themes

Run Time: 2 hours, 10 minutes

 

 

All hail the adult dramedy, the kind of blithe entertainment that often marks family dysfunction with a capital D. Helmer Curtis Hanson – better known for such cerebral fare as “L.A. Confidential” – plays it safe with this mainstream effort that nonetheless sparkles with sentiment and wit.

Sibling rivalry is king in the Feller family, where Rose (Toni Collette) is a do-gooding, over-achieving attorney and Maggie (Cameron Diaz) is still finding herself; in seedy bars, bad relationships and dead-end jobs.

After a run of particularly bad luck Maggie moves in with her Type A sis who is uncharacteristically ensconced in a new fling and treading the edges of la dolce vita. Unfortunately for Rose her lover has a wandering eye and it lands on Maggie.

The last shred of familial bond is destroyed by that simple act of betrayal. The sisters fight bitterly and Rose throws Maggie out of her apartment and out of her life, presumably forever.

With nowhere to turn Maggie finds herself on a bus to Florida to seek out a grandmother who until now was nothing more than a return address on a handful of childhood birthday cards.

Grandma Ella Hirsch (Shirley MacLaine) welcomes Maggie with open arms; and a patient wait for the other shoe to drop. While Maggie adjusts to the languorous pace of a retirement community for active seniors Rose goes into a personal tailspin, quitting her law job to walk dogs and hooking up with a nebbish lawyer (Mark Feuerstein as Simon) who claims she had him at hello.

I dislike the term “chick flick” but “Shoes” has a decidedly female bent. The story is not particularly original and the climax altogether too tidy but its core is emotionally grounded and endearingly familiar to anyone who endures family on a daily basis.

Smart pithy dialogue – and the occasional tired zinger courtesy of a sweetly demented senior -- keeps things light while the more serious business of repairing broken roots and affections comes into play.

Rumors to the contrary, Diaz is more than just a pretty face. She brings a tentative resignation to her role as the perpetual screw-up, a sharp counterbalance to Collette’s steely control.

There’s something archly satisfying about frustrating family dynamics tinged with wry humor. As Rose and Maggie forge separate paths there is nonetheless a serendipitous conviction that the sisters will discover that blood is the stickiest bond of all.