Curtis Hanson seems to know what women want as evidenced from In Her Shoes, his new film with flawed characters starring Cameron Diaz (Shrek 2) and Toni Collette (Connie & Carla, About A Boy).
In venturing into condescending "chick flick" territory, the director of 8 Mile an The Hand that Rocks the Cradle is again successful in allowing his performers to flex their attributes in ways they may not have realized.
Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich) has adapted the popular Jennifer Weiner novel, and works with Hanson quite well to make the humor and pathos truthful to everyday life and the familial conflicts that often occur.
Collette's Rose is doing very well for herself as a Philadelphia attorney whose life is radically changed by her close but gorgeous messed-up sister Maggie (Diaz) after picking up her up after a night of partying at a class reunion.
Maggie has been thrown out by her father and unlikable stepmother (Ken Howard, Candice Azzara) and has aspirations as an actress, auditioning for a high-profile position on MTV. But her illiteracy brings out her more unflattering backstabbing traits, and the slightly older, bulkier Rose vents out her anger by throwing the stealing Maggie out, though not before she finds some unopened correspondence from Florida.
There, she seeks out her estranged grandmother Ella (Shirley MacLaine of Bewitched) who is employed at an elderly rehab facility. Ella takes her in and might be the person to steer this rebellious underachiever in the right direction. Back in the Keystone State, Rose's romantic life is on an upswing after taking a legal leave of absence with persistent food connisseur lawyer Simon (Mark Feurerstein, whose voice sounds awfully similar to Jon Stewart's).
Hanson does a fine job in making the scenes authentic from the interaction of the cast and crew. MacLaine isn't glamorized at all and her presence with the sharp elderly denizens around her is subtle in reacting to the "Golden Girls" warmth and wit around her. Collette has some emotive scenes like About A Boy, but really conveys the ups and downs of a woman trying to be loved and consoled. And, Diaz works off her gifts of beauty and physical comedy to create a performance of much self-examination, reflected in poetic moments that challenge the doubting Maggie.
Hanson and Grant excel in having the characters strongly criticize themselves without being too mawkish and never overdo the root of the generational divide and resentfulness. In Her Shoes may be a tough sell for its marketers due in part to its story which is lengthy and episodic. Yet, like its sympathetic lead actresses whose characters fit into the same size shoe, it may not always look good in high heels, but manages to carry its heart with a smile.