We need more directors willing to take risks with films like Get Out.
Curtis Hanson's "In Her Shoes" takes a good half hour to make it clear it will not be a soppy chick flick, and for that matter what is "chick flick" anyway but an insulting term for a movie that is about women instead of the usual testosterone carriers? The movie's set-up would be right at home in a sitcom, but its next 99 minutes do some rather unexpected things with characters who insist on breaking out of the stereotypes they started with. It's not every big-budget movie that gets its two biggest emotional payoffs with poems by Elizabeth Bishop and e.e. cummings.
Here are the opening stereotypes: Maggie Feller (Cameron Diaz) is a blond bimbo who gets drunk at her high school reunion, has sex in the toilet and passes out. Her sister Rose (Toni Collette) is a plain-Jane Philadelphia lawyer who is 15 pounds on the wrong side of her Weight Watchers target goal. Their mother is dead, and their father Michael (Ken Howard) lives with his new wife Sydelle (Candice Azzara). Maggie still lives at home, because the rent is free, but Sydelle kicks her out because she wants her room for her own daughter, invariably described as "my Marsha."
Maggie moves in with Rose. Some measure of her desperation is suggested when Rose tells her she might consider going back to school. Maggie: "You know how well that worked out." Rose: "I meant the literacy place." Maggie indeed flunks an MTV audition when she can't read the words on the Teleprompter. Meanwhile, she trashes Rose's apartment while stealing her clothes, her money and a potential boyfriend. Rose throws her out. Maggie is desperate when she finds birthday cards mailed to the girls by a grandmother whose existence was concealed from them. This is Ella (Shirley MacLaine), and in desperation, Rose travels to Ella's retirement home in Florida and throws herself on the mercy of a total stranger.
It's around here that the movie slips out of the cute stuff, and develops a bite. Ella is the kind of no-nonsense older woman MacLaine has been playing ever since the wonderful "Madame Sousatzka" (1988). She's not a sentimental "oldster" but a tough cookie who observes Maggie stealing from her and asks her, "How much money were you hoping to get from me?" She makes Maggie a deal: She'll match, penny for penny, whatever Maggie can make while working at the retirement home's assisted living center. And as Maggie begins to bond with people like Mrs. Lefkowitz (Francine Beers) and Prof (Norman Lloyd), she discovers, slowly and uncertainly, that she can be competent and responsible and maybe even respectable.