If there is a secret support group for men who cry during chick flicks, Curtis Hanson’s In Her Shoes would look to be pretty much made to order. Hanson directed L.A. Confidential with a pre-gladiator Russell Crowe beating people up while chasing Kim Basinger. Much of In Her Shoes includes Cameron Diaz in multiple scenes in some combination of a bikini and high heels, so there is an excuse for real guys to watch.
I do have to say though that Diaz has always struck me as the women’s version of what guys are supposed to physically desire in women in that she’s so blonde and so skinny that she’s more what women like Jennifer Weiner (the author of the original novel) fear than what average men actually respond to. I’ve had a similar take on Uma Thurman who also got repeatedly cast as the “perfect woman” in a bunch of her pre-Ethan Hawke movies. My own sense is that guys actually fixate more on the likes of Natalie Portman, Angelina Jolie, or Jennifer Aniston, or even the pre-commander in chief Geena Davis. I’ve even met a few guys who have a thing for Toni Collette.
In Her Shoes includes the not actually dowdy Toni Collete, who because of Muriel’s Wedding gets cast in these emerging wallflower roles repeatedly. One would almost have to have a sixth sense to believe that Collete is supposed to be the “fat” sister of In Her Shoes. She looked pretty normal to me, though that’s along the lines of the whole Cameron Diaz thing. The ultimate warning sign though is that that grandmother of all chick flick actresses, Shirley Maclaine, is incarnated here as a – get this – a wisecracking grandmother forced to skip a generation and mother her grandchildren while reviving her own dating life. If Terms of Endearment was the grandmother of the modern chick flick/dramedy, Maclaine’s grandmother reincarnations are the ultimate chickflick guarantee that you will be expected to laugh, cry, and take note of women’s body or age issues at multiple points in the movie.
Hanson has a history of being rather good at bending genres. One of his early good films, Silent Partner, fooled with a nerdy leading man in a heist plot; Never Cry Wolf was one of the first notable attempts to blend documentary and comedy; 8 Mile blended rap with the more traditional psycho-drama musical biography; and LA Confidential both satirized and homaged film noir. Hanson in this one though sticks mostly to getting performances out of his main actors, the heart of what makes chick flicks work.
In Her Shoes is no Ridley Scott/Thelma and Louise attempt to interpolate buddy movie with chick flick though that movie has a place in chickflick hall of fame because of the shirtless Brad Pitt scene. Other than the opening sequence of Diaz doing it in a bathroom then puking and the repeated trips up Diaz’s long thin legs and not very prominent rear, Hanson takes a surprisingly straight “tears to laughter to moment of growth” by-the-numbers approach to the material. He doesn’t even back off of the increasingly de rigeur scene of having a character read serious poetry at some point in movie that ties chick flicks to their cultural cousin, the women’s reading circle.
Hanson is quite effective at it. Partly because Diaz does mostly comedy and partly because the publicity machine has made her out to be an “It” girl, Diaz has always been underrated as an actress. Here you can see Diaz’s knack for physical comedy in an early scene where she makes a lazy person’s milk shake by pouring milk into a mostly full ice cream container than dropping it on the shoes she “stole” from her sister. In a later scene, she subtly echoes the earlier scene when she spills a can of soda on her grandmother’s kitchen floor and also signals a change in the character by showing a slight tweak of awareness/conscience when her grandmother calls her on it. Hanson makes you feel the change in the character by shifting from a slightly jittery hand held camera to the stability of tripod and brighter lighting.
Collette is always good, but Hanson brings out the sense of sadness she naturally projects through her eyes and slack-jawed mouth while still getting her to seem convincingly caught up in the exuberance of love and basketball. With Collette he does it less with physical changes than with shifts in Collette’s diction and length of utterance to hint at a growing spontaneity. Mark Feuerstein also does well as a lawyer/love interest who goes by some name like “Simon the token Mensch” (chick flick note, the nice guys in these movies are always marked by the fact that they encourage the female characters to enjoy food). Hanson gets much more texture out of Collette than in her turn as the depressive hippie mom in About a Boy.
While Maclaine has played the annoyed grandmother role a bit too often, Hanson keeps her toned down and the Golden Girls section of the movie stops just short of too cutesy, though it crosses the line more than a couple times with half a dozen actresses who appear to be doing Estelle Getty impressions.
One misconception about chick flicks is that average guys (I don’t claim to be one) despise them because the ratio of long glances to explosions is intolerably high. The more usual guy complaint is that they suffer from Stockplot Syndrome. (Stockholm Syndrome was this thing where hostages start identifying with their captors) In Her Shoes honestly does suffer from Stockplot Syndrome in that the best-friend sisters who are outwardly opposites but deeply tied to one another plot generally always has a big “One Way” sign written all over the movie. They’ll break apart, learn new things about themselves, each other, and their family, then heal while deepening their bond in the process. Guys like movies where things happen and tend to be more about: can the character’s get to destination? Chick Flicks are all about the journey. Hanson possibly wisely decides not to fool with the formula.
The test of any chick flick is whether or not you cry at the big sentimental moments near the end. For whatever reason, I did with this one. If you can make it past a fifteen minute intro that works too hard to establish the differences between Diaz and Collette’s characters, that might have easily been telegraphed in a single scene with Diaz trying on Collette’s shoes and if you can make it past Dr. Auschlander(Norman Lloyd) from St. Elsewhere as a reading teacher who’s literally blind to Diaz’s other charms, In Her Shoes actually does get you to that warm fuzzy place without making you feel like you need an insulin shot at the end. Please be warned that I also liked Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (can you imagine anyone liking a movie that combined Bend it Like Beckham, Big Fat Greek Wedding, and Kid with Cancer meets Too Cool for her own good Teen plots all into a 2 hour vehicle), but I give In Her Shoes four pairs of Pradas. If your wife/girlfriend insists on picking the movie, this is one you might even survive.