Well-heeled story runs short on soul

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Well-heeled story runs short on soul

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There are few things duller than a stale chick flick. And although “In Her Shoes” has potential in its story and characters, which provide the occasional funny or sweet moment, shallow acting by its two female leads drives it into mediocrity.
The two women are sisters who lost their mother at an early age and are struggling to find themselves in adulthood. Rose (Toni Collette), the older sister, is a successful lawyer with a perfect apartment, an affair with a partner at her firm and a closet full of shoes she never wears. Maggie (Cameron Diaz), the younger sister, is a playgirl, drinking every night at others’ expense and constantly being evicted or fired. Neither is very happy.
Then Rose catches her boyfriend / boss in her bed with Maggie. After she shoves Maggie out the door, Maggie ends up in Florida, discovering a grandmother she never knew she had (Shirley MacLaine). Meanwhile, the awkward circumstances force Rose to quit her job. Rose takes up dog walking and finds a new beau in Simon (Mark Feuerstein). Naturally things build to a suitably sappy ending, but not without lots of drama along the way.
Predictably, MacLaine is a shining light, and every moment she is on screen shows what this film might have been. Even in otherwise happy scenes, the complicated emotions that resulted from her daughter’s death are clear on her face. Her character undergoes the most successful transformation in the film, from having given up on her granddaughters to forgiving them and reconciling with the past. Unfortunately, MacLaine’s brilliance exposes just how inadequate Collette and Diaz are to their roles.
Both are cute, and it’s clear that both connect particularly well with a female audience. They each get their funny moments, involving broken heels, stolen puppies and knives waved at stepmothers. Grandma’s hilarious neighbors in the retirement community also help out with the comedy. But the dramatic meat of the two main characters’ stories is underdone.
Their emotional range is limited to anger and whimsy, and although the story clearly shows them to be radically different people by the end, Collette and Diaz’s portrayals don’t vary in any significant way. Rose’s key emotional watershed ― quitting her law job and taking up dog walking ― seems less an act of uncharacteristic desperation and more of a spontaneous fling. The middle of her character arc sags as a result.
Rose’s supporting characters add little support. Simon, the intelligent lawyer-gourmand-dreamboat fiance, and Amy (Brooke Smith), the cynical friend with cutting remarks, are little better than cardboard cutouts. Diaz, although accompanied by the best supporting actors, gains no depth to her performance. Not even Elizabeth Bishop can help Diaz’s sob scene, which has her reading poetry to a professor, draw sympathy from the audience.
“In Her Shoes” does have a good script by Susannah Grant, and by the end my mother and sister were ready to pick up Jennifer Weiner’s original novel. If you’re interested in this genre, it’s worth going just to see MacLaine and her rudely frank neighbors. But with two lead actresses on autopilot, the tight foreground story becomes something of an ordeal.


In Her Shoes
Drama / English
130 min.
Opens Thursday


by Ben Applegate

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