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20th Century Fox presents
Rose: Oh God, why can't I just stay mad at you?
DVD ReviewDirector Curtis Hanson operates like one of the studio contract directors of old, jumping from genre to genre and altering his style based on the picture, never repeating himself too much, but never failing to deliver the goods, either. After years spent putting out effective genre pieces like The River Wild, and winning Oscars with the pitch-perfect, noir-flavored L.A. Confidential and box-office dollars with the surprisingly effective Eminem bio-pic 8 Mile, the director entered new territory with In Her Shoes, based on the novel by current "chick lit" It Girl Jennifer Weiner, with a screenplay by Erin Brockovich Oscar nominee Susannah Grant.
This is one of those rare films that not only follows the book closely, but also improves upon it quite a bit—Weiner's novel used a shifting perspective that made it hard to connect with the characters, but on film they come to life. Rose (Toni Collette) and Maggie (Cameron Diaz) are sisters, and total opposites (save for a passion for shoes, and size 8-1/2 feet). Rose, a successful lawyer, is frumpy and unhappy with her looks and her love life. Maggie is a knockout with the perfect body that will land her any man she wants, but she struggles through life and can't hold a job because she's borderline illiterate; when she's kicked out of her dad's (Ken Howard) house, she mooches off of Rose. Each sister wants what the other has, and the movie gets the complexities of the sibling relationship just right—love, envy, devotion, and resentment all rolled into one.
While searching through her father's things for some quick cash, Maggie discovers old unopened birthday cards, evidence of a grandmother she and her sister have never known (for reasons that have to do with their mother's death). Before she can tell her sister about that, though, Maggie really screws up, and screws Rose's boyfriend (who also happens to be her boss), and Rose throws her out. With nowhere else to go, Maggie heads down to a retirement community in Florida to meet grandma Ella (Shirley MacLaine, doing great work with her best role in a long time).
Really apart for the first time in their lives, we see how the sisters depend on each other, battle each other, and, really, are so much alike despite very different personalities. Maggie, free from the responsibility of living up to her sister's achievements, begins to reassess her life. Rose, realizing she's allowed herself to ignore her personal life in favor of success at work, makes some changes too, feeling out romance in a relationship with a former co-worker (Mark Feuerstein). Meanwhile, Ella's story, and the reasons she hasn't seen her granddaughters, is slowly revealed, and the scenes at the retirement community (with the real-life residents playing themselves) are some of the film's best, never poking fun at the aged characters. Ella is no idiot, and knows Maggie is there looking for a handout, and their scenes play out in unexpected ways.
This isn't a movie built around action; nothing specifically happens to the characters to drive the story—they simply exist, and grow, and change, and realize things about themselves organically. It doesn't sound like rocket science, and it certainly isn't anything uncommon in the realm of independent cinema, but we're talking about a major Hollywood movie here, with big stars. It should be formulaic and safe, but instead it feels genuine and heartfelt. All of Hanson's films seem to find emotional truth and depth in characters that could easily come off as, well, characters, and that's a blessing these days, when movies are built around marketing campaigns rather than strong storytelling. Hollywood used to make a lot of these so-called "women's pictures," but in the old days, that usually meant well-written, well-acted melodramas, not cruddy romantic comedies, and In Her Shoes is the type of film Michael Curtiz would have made 60 years ago.
More than one critic has labeled In Her Shoes the best family drama of its kind since Terms of Endearment. While such bold, trailer-worthy statements sound nice, they tend to come across as hyperbole ("The best shoe movie since The Red Shoes!"), so I'll just say it's about as good as these things get, engaging, funny, and genuine, without a false moment or blatant misstep.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: In Her Shoes comes to DVD with as good a transfer as most any recent theatrical release. Colors are warm and natural, detail is excellent, dark scenes never suffer due to a lack of shadow detail, and no mastering problems like artifacting or edge enhancement mar the image.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: The 5.1 DD audio mix is pretty standard for a drama. Dialogue is anchored in the center, and the score fills out the mix in the front mains and surrounds. Sound effects aren't really an issue, but the rears also add atmosphere to crowd scenes and the like.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
Packaging: Keep Case
Extras Review: Director Curtis Hanson has yet to record a commentary track, and In Her Shoes doesn't include one, nor does it have deleted scenes or gag reels or much of the other junk that passes for bonus material these days. Instead, we get a trio of unusual featurettes, each offering a unique perspective on the film that you wouldn't get out of the typical HBO promo piece.
The People in the Shoes (16m:11s) focuses on the strong, character based story, and includes interviews with director Curtis Hanson, screenwriter Susannah Grant, novelist Jennifer Weiner, producer Carol Fenelon, and the cast, all of whom talk about how the connected to the material and offering their personal interpretations of the lead characters and their relationships. I appreciated Hanson's discussion of the art and photographs glimpsed throughout the film and how they fit thematically.
A Retirement Community for Acting Seniors (11m:03s) is a cute piece on all the real-life Florida retirees and Pat Buchanan voters who populate the retirement community where the movie was filmed and played extras. They all talk a bit about the experience in interviews (one lady points to the boom mike and says "They kept putting that in my face and I didn't know what it was!"). A very original featurette that will make you miss your grandma.
From Death Row to the Red Carpet: The Casting of Honey Bun (07m:41s) reveals how the adorable dog Maggie brings home from her job as a dog washer was saved from doggie death row, and that the producers chose to use a mutt rather than a purebred pug (as was used in the book and screenplay) in order to inspire people to go to pounds to find pets rather than breeders. A very original featurette that will make you miss your dog.
Extras Grade: C+
Final CommentsOne of the year's biggest surprises, In Her Shoes has brains and heart and such genuine feeling that the term "chick flick" just doesn't cut it—this is a great, character-based drama the likes of which Hollywood used to make very well and now hardly makes at all.
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