There's really nothing wrong with Curtis Hanson's estrogen drama "In Her Shoes." There's nothing particularly interesting about it either — and that, coming from the director of "L.A. Confidential," "8 Mile" and the underrated "Wonder Boys," is a shame indeed. Much ink has already been spent discussing why Hanson wanted to go the chick-lit route, but it's the wrong question. (One could wonder here why light novels by male authors are called fiction, while light novels by women are called chick lit, but that's the wrong question, too.)
More to the point, why did Hanson want to direct this particular book? Jennifer Weiner's tale of two sisters is a peculiar flavor of light-but-humorless, populated with likable but predictable characters whose convenient third-act transformations never ring true.
Hanson's screen version, adapted by Susannah Grant, improves on the book and features some fine performances, as his movies usually do. Toni Collette plays Rose, the overweight (by Hollywood standards) lawyer who struggles with self-esteem; Cameron Diaz is her party-girl sister Maggie, beautiful but aimless. Over the movie's leisurely two hours, the two women reaffirm their bond — with the aid of their long-lost grandmother Ella (Shirley MacLaine) — and along the way find happiness individually as well.
Hanson has a gift for drawing out unexpectedly wonderful performances from actors, such as Kim Basinger in "L.A. Confidential" and "8 Mile," and Michael Douglas in "Wonder Boys." Here, the standout — and the film's only real surprise — is MacLaine, who tones down her powerhouse presence to give a restrained performance that's often quite touching. Her Ella has a visible tension around her mouth, as if she's keeping it carefully closed against things she doesn't want to say.
The ever-underrated Collette brings naturalness to a thankless role: the frumpy sister who lets down her hair and learns how to love. And Diaz prances cheerfully through the movie, occasionally creating some genuine chemistry with Collette. The two have a lovely scene of unexpected gentleness near the end that should resonate with any sister, as will a line of Rose's: "Without her, I don't make sense." And a sweetly pretty wedding just might inspire a few tears.
"In Her Shoes" is aimed squarely at a demographic — grown-up women — who aren't often catered to by Hollywood, and it's competent and sometimes charming. But there's a soap-opera blandness to it that even the gifted cast can't overcome. It's a bit too by-the-book — and maybe that's its problem.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org