I had a pleasant and an unpleasant surprise this weekend as far as movies go. A couple of acquaintances of ours had recommended the 2005 film “Elizabethtown” as a good movie to watch. I did and I was not terribly impressed. Supposedly it was touted to be a wonderful “road movie” but I found it trite and annoying with sub-standard performances by the leads, Orlando Bloom (who spent most of the movie looking like a stunned mullet) and Kirsten Dunst (who was cloyingly, annoyingly, saccharine sweet throughout). Susan Sarandon was at a loss on how to deal with her role and must have been quite embarrassed with the result when she looked at the finished product. This was Hollywood at its sentimental worst and Cameron Crowe’s direction was pedestrian to the point of hobbling. The plot predictable, the characters worn and uninteresting and the whole movie trying: Trying to be funny, trying to be profound, trying to be original, trying to be witty, trying to be sad, trying to be poignant and never getting past the trying part.
On the other hand, the pleasant surprise was a movie that I had thought was going to be mushy and a typical “chick flick” was very good and a pleasure to watch. This second movies was Curtis Hanson’s “In Her Shoes” (2005) with Cameron Diaz, Toni Colette, Anson Mount and Shirley Maclaine. Firstly, let me say that this was typical Hollywood too, but also was a movie that attempted to inject some character into its characters and tried to make the plot a little three-dimensional.
The plot revolves around two sisters, Maggie (Cameron Diaz), the almost illiterate, bubbly, party girl and Rose (Toni Colette) who is plain but intellectually brilliant. Maggie is unemployed, a petty thief, promiscuous and superficial while Rose is a lawyer, organised, busy and has a problem with attracting men. Add to that the tragic loss of the women’s mother while they were still girls, a stormy relationship with their stepmother and conflict over the man that Rose finally manages to get into her bed. The sisters’ relationship breaks down and Maggie disappears, going to Florida to visit (read ‘sponge off’) her recently discovered grandmother (Shirley Maclaine) that neither of the sisters knew was still alive.
This is a movie about self-discovery, as much as it is about the relationship between the two sisters. The screenplay is well adapted from the best seller by Jennifer Weiner and the direction is excellent. The actors revel in their roles and Toni Colette once again proves her mettle in this difficult role where she needs to express an inner warmth and beauty that her external very unglamorous appearance has to radiate. Cameron Diaz has been well cast as the flighty Maggie and there are also some very good supporting role performances throughout.
As far as the shoes in the title are concerned, there is a very obvious sexual symbolism in that the two sisters wear the same size shoes, and also the fact that Maggie constantly wears her sister’s shoes. The fact that the grandmother also wears the same size shoe is significant and through the story, the women in the family have to be in each other’s shoes in order to experience life from that perspective.
Chick flick? Yes, it was. Did I enjoy it as a guy? I sure did. Why? Because of a good plot and screenplay, great characterisation with believable characters, excellent direction and good development. Yes, there are flaws, yes the film is slightly longer than optimal, yes the male characters are a little underdeveloped, but overall, I would recommend it highly. If you haven’t seen it, well worth getting hold of the DVD and seeing it (don’t be misled by the rubbishy blurb on the cover).