Book and Magazine Reviews
Story of two sisters with nothing in common but size 8 ½ feet
IN HER SHOES is the alternately hilarious and heart-rending story of two sisters with nothing in common but size 8 ½ feet. Maggie and Rose Feller are both best friends and polar opposites when it comes to values, goals and personal style.
Maggie (Cameron Diaz ,right) is a party girl who barely graduated from high school, recycles jobs as quickly as yesterday’s newspapers and believes her biggest asset is her attractiveness to the opposite sex. Her recurring state of unemployment leaves her virtually homeless as she bounces between the sofas of her friends and relatives. With no confidence in her intellectual ability, she prizes makeup over books and has an innate talent for choosing the perfect accessories and clothes for any occasion.
Rose (Toni Collette) is a Princeton educated attorney at a top law firm in Philadelphia. Her beautifully decorated prewar apartment is her haven from the outside world. With her nose perpetually to the grindstone, she struggles constantly with her weight and never feels comfortable in the clothes she wears. Her low self esteem regarding her physical appearance has left her dating life non-existent. Rose’s one joy in life is shoes (because they always fit), but unfortunately she has few social opportunities to remove them from her closet.
After a calamitous falling out, the two sisters travel a bumpy road toward true appreciation for one another – aided along the way by the discovery of the maternal grandmother (Shirley MacLaine) they thought was dead. Through their re-connection with their grandmother, Ella, Maggie and Rose learn how to make peace with themselves and with each other.
Director Curtis Hanson’s masterful work on films such as “L.A. Confidential,” “Wonder Boys” and “8 Mile,” could leave some to consider the female-centric world of IN HER SHOES to be a departure for the filmmaker. But Hanson doesn’t see it that way. “IN HER SHOES is not that different from my other films, because all of these movies are about characters who are struggling to figure out what they're doing with themselves and what they're doing with their lives, characters who are yearning for human connection and family.”
Jennifer Weiner's second novel, In Her Shoes, was published in 2002, and quickly climbed onto bestseller lists. Recalls Weiner: “Some of the questions I had when I started writing the book were: How can people who come from literally the same place, who grow up in the same house, go on the same vacations and eat the same food for dinner, wind up being totally different people with different interests, different attitudes, and different looks? What do they still share? What are the bonds that exist no matter where their lives take them?
“In families with more than one sibling, there is often the feeling of being put into a box: you're the smart, responsible one, while you're the screwed up one we're going to have to keep an eye on. I find it interesting how those labels serve you and how they hold you back.”
When she took on the adaptation of Weiner's novel, screenwriter Susannah Grant (“Erin Brockovich”) was attracted to the rich yet painful relationship between the two sisters. “The truth is that the person who knows you best is the person who can hurt you the most,” she explains. “That's also the same person who can help you the most when you're hurt. That's the risk of loving; but the risk of not loving is greater because that's horrible loneliness. In the beginning most of the characters in the story are in some sort of ‘well of loneliness' – suffering from the same isolation.”
“When I read Susannah's screenplay,” says Weiner, “I kicked myself because she had written things that I wish I had thought of. She totally captured the heart and soul of the sisters.”
“What's so great about these two sisters,” says Curtis Hanson, “is that on the one hand they're opposites. Maggie is beautiful, but thinks she's dumb. Rose is an over-achiever and thinks she's homely. But they're actually two sides of the same coin. They're connected through their mutual dependency, through habit, through love. And it's not until trauma breaks them apart that they're forced to function as individuals, which actually liberates them, allowing them to go their own way, and in a sense discover their true selves.”
Hanson's producing partner, Carol Fenelon , responded to the way the screenplay dealt with the issue of self-esteem. “So often we succumb to other people's perceptions of what we should be,” says Fenelon. “IN HER SHOES explores the challenge of making the most of what
we're capable of – about being comfortable in one's own shoes. Maggie and Rose come to realize it's never too late to change one's path.”
When she took on the role of Rose, Toni Collette also had to take on additional weight . “I vowed to high heavens that I would never put on weight again for a movie,” laughs the Australian actress, who gained forty-three pounds for her second film, “Muriel's Wedding.”
“But Curtis has this way of getting what he wants and I ended up putting on twenty-five pounds to play the part. Then, once Rose quits her job and begins to fall in love and become a happier person it affects her physically. So I then had to lose the weight through a rigid diet and exercise program during the middle of shooting. I don't think I'll be doing this ‘weight see-saw' thing again. But with IN HER SHOES, it was worth it because that part of Rose's life really affects and inhibits her.”
Hanson had long been an admirer of Collette's talent, especially her chameleon-like ability to completely transform herself into the characters she plays. “Toni takes what is discover ed during rehearsal and then continues to burrow down into the most inner recesses of her character. When it's time to shoot, t he subtle nuances she brings to her portrayal are often breathtaking.”
Collette explains that Rose's “shoe-aholism” is an important part of the character. “She can't treat herself with clothes because that only reminds her that she is overweight and doesn't like her body,” says Collette. “But feet don't grow larger, so shoes will always fit her. She has shoes in her cupboard, some still in their boxes. They're untouched, on display behind closed doors. And yet, they may be worn one day. They are like Rose, who is so beautiful but so covered up.”
Portraying Ella is Academy Award®-winning actress Shirley MacLaine, who recalls that making IN HER SHOES at the former Goldwyn Studios “rang with memories of the past.” Not only was the interior of Ella's home built on the same stage where she had filmed “The Apartment,” but the rehearsal room Hanson and the cast used had been MacLaine's dressing room during production of “The Apartment,” “The Children's Hour” and “Irma La Douce.”
But IN HER SHOES represented far more than a trip down memory lane for the legendary actress. “I was so glad to work in a character-driven piece for a change,” says MacLaine. “Ella lives in a community where everything is perfect, very manicured and clean and comfortable. She doesn't like to confront her own feelings or her sense of having been shut out of the lives of her granddaughters. She's on her own, not really tending to herself so she has a kind of glossed-over façade. I've never played a part like this, and it can be threatening because it's so authentically subtle. That, plus an early conversation I had with Curtis in which he said he wanted a very quiet performance, attracted me to the role.”
“I was excited about the possibility of Shirley MacLaine playing Ella , ” says Hanson , “ partly because s he is such a powerful personality and actress. I was interested in w hat would happen if she brought that talent and personality to a character potentially full of sensuality and life, who is completely shut down and is ignoring her own needs while serving as a care giver for others. She's helping these other elderly people as a means of working out her guilt and frustration over the way in which she dealt with her daughter. Her performance needed to be about repression. If Shirley would modulate her power in creating such a character, I thought the results would be very exciting.