In Her Shoes Review

Maggie May Feller (Cameron Diaz) is a party girl who lives for today with no thought for tomorrow. Her sister Rose (Toni Collette) is the plain one, a high-flying Philadelphia lawyer with not much of a personal life, weight issues and a tendency towards using shoes she’ll hardly ever wear as retail therapy. Maggie is a semi-permanent resident in Rose’s apartment until she finds a proper job…but after an argument Rose throws her out. After staying with her father and his new wife (Rose’s and Maggie’s mother died when they were both young) Maggie discovers that she has a long-lost grandmother, Ella (Shirley Maclaine), living in a retirement community in Florida…

One film can make or break a reputation. Before 1997, most people would have put Curtis Hanson down as a maker of thrillers (The Bedroom Window, Bad Influence, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, The River Wild) which were certainly very competent and efficient, but somehow lacking that vital spark. Then came L.A. Confidential, a masterly adaptation of James Ellroy’s novel which he co-wrote as well as directed. The result is that now people are re-evaluating that run of thrillers – though I’ve yet to see anyone try to reclaim 1983’s Losin’ It, let alone the two now rather obscure features he made before that. Since L.A. Confidential, Hanson has seemed determined to prove his versatility, with a classy middle-age-crisis campus comedy (Wonder Boys), a semi-biographical film starring Eminem (8 Mile) and now an archetypal women’s movie in In Her Shoes. Hanson is a director of the old school: not flashy but solidly craftsmanlike, with a welcome attention to character and an ability to turn his hand to a variety of genres. As such he’s tended to be underrated.

In Her Shoes does have its flaws and contrivances, but it’s a very pleasant and professionally-done two hours plus. On the plus side it has three fine lead actresses. Cameron Diaz has the showiest role, and in some ways the trickiest: if the film can be said to gloss over Maggie’s problems – kleptomania and promiscuity, let alone apparent dyslexia, won’t just go away after a few heart-to-hearts with your grandmother – at least Diaz does show the vulnerability below the surface. Rose isn’t really a stretch for Toni Collette, who has to be one of the finest actresses working today, but she does uncover shadings in what is ultimately a stock ugly-duckling character. Shirley Maclaine is a lot more restrained than she often is, and all the better for it. This is the women’s show, and Mark Feuerstein (as Rose’s work colleage Simon) seems something of a spare part and can’t do much with a role that has “plot function” written over it. On the other hand, Brooke Smith has some good moments as Rose’s best friend Amy. Susannah Grant’s script, adapted from a novel by Jennifer Weiner, has enough sharp lines to keep sentimentality at bay. Hanson’s direction keeps the film moving along briskly: it’s a little overlong at 130 minutes but not overmuch. The film does take its time to establish the characters as convincing sisters, bonding and mutual affection mixed with bickering and rivalry, before kicking the plot into motion. (Maclaine doesn’t appear for some thirty-five minutes.) You can see the ending coming, but that doesn’t count so much as how we get there.

If you can’t tolerate “chickflicks” you will probably avoid this like the plague. That’s a pity as, even though it doesn’t quite rise above its genre and ultimately its clichés, this is an enjoyable film that values storytelling and characterisation, two elements that too often get overlooked in favour of sensation.

Fox’s DVD (encoded for Region 1 only) begins with that “Piracy is a Crime” advertisement and a trailer for Cheaper by the Dozen 2, but fortunately you can skip those. The film itself has an anamorphic transfer in a ratio of 2.40:1. Terry Stacey’s cinematography uses different colour schemes for the two main locations: darker, cooler and bluer for Philadelphia, warmer, brighter and more orange for Florida. There’s some grain in the darker scenes but it isn’t intrusive and is presumably intentional. This is an excellent transfer.

The main soundtrack option is a Dolby Digital 5.1 track. This isn’t the sort of film to give your speakers a workout, but it gets the job done. Dialogue is clear and the surrounds are used for more than just music: the street sounds in the Philadelphia scenes for example. The subwoofer has light duties this time round though. The disc also contains French and Spanish dubs, both in surround-encoded Dolby Digital 2.0. There are twenty-eight chapter stops.

Extras are distinctly lacking, consisting of three featurettes. “The People in the Shoes” (16:11) is fairly standard making-of stuff, with interviews with Hanson, co-producer Carol Fenelon, Jennifer Weiner, Susannah Grant and the principal cast. It does go beyond the usual EPK fluff when Hanson describes some of his directorial strategies which, subtle as they are, would probably pass unnoticed on a first viewing – for example, his use of mirrors and a handheld camera to help define Diaz’s character. “A Retirement Community for Acting Seniors” (11:03) profiles the members of the retirement home where the Florida scenes were shot, many of whose residents were making their debuts (in small roles or as extras) in their eighties and nineties. Finally, “From Death Row to the Red Carpet: The Casting of Honey Bun” (7:41) is devoted to Hamlet the mongrel pug who has a featured role in the film. Rescued from an animal shelter, he is now pursuing a screen career. The three featurettes are shot on video, which causes a good few artefacts, and makes the captions introducing each interviewee a little hard to read. They are presented in 16:9 anamorphic with a surround-encoded Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack, but unfortunately no subtitle options.

The only other extra is an “inside look” (2:16) at a forthcoming Fox release, namely Just My Luck, during which star Lindsay Lohan is interviewed. This is certainly disappointing for a new major-studio release. Where’s the trailer for In Her Shoes at the very least? And a commentary would be nice.

In Her Shoes is an entertaining film which gets a mixed DVD: picture and sound are fine, which is all you really need I guess. The extras could certainly have been better.

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Last updated: 19/04/2018 06:19:21

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