A Touch of Sole
Oh, it’s totally a chick flick: there’s all sorts of stuff about shoes, and there will be some happy tears at the end. But it’s the good kind of chick flick, about real women with real problems that other real women can identify with, not the idiot kind that made the term “chick flick” derogatory in the first place, the kind about ya-ya sisterhoods or traveling pants or the ones that celebrate female asininity and irrationality as somehow, you know, delightfully feminine. Blech. Real women have no tolerance for that crap.
The shoe stuff, it’s a metaphor. Rose Feller (Toni Collette: Connie and Carla, The Hours), an overworked, undersexed, high-powered lawyer, has a closet full of to-die-for shoes: kicky sandals and fuck-me pumps and amazing boots and open-toed little things like glamorous 1940’s Hollywood goddess would have worn. And she never wears them. She indulges in retail therapy because it makes her feel better, but she only ever looks at them in the closet. It’s not that she’s actually uptight, just sort of superfocused on her work and definitely not a woman to use sex as a weapon, and lot of those shoes definitely have the potential to be wielded that way.
Or maybe I say she’s not uptight because I wouldn’t like to think of myself as uptight and I’m definitely on Rose’s end of the female spectrum and not on the end on which her sister, Maggie (Cameron Diaz: Shrek 2, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle), plays rather recklessly. Maggie, she’s a tramp, not to put too fine a word on it, and clueless with it: she knows how to get a guy into a bathroom stall for a quick fuck but doesn’t understand why her vomiting drunkenly into the toilet would be something of a turnoff for the dude.
My reaction to Maggie is Rose’s: She’s a nightmare, she’s a horror, she’s a walking personal disaster heading for “pathetic” (Rose’s word) middle-aged trampdom if she doesn’t straighten herself up and learn how to deal with the world — and let the world deal with her — as something other than a drop-dead gorgeous blonde. And this is the wonderful thing about Diaz’s performance and Susannah Grant’s (Erin Brockovich, Ever After) script (based on Jennifer Weiner’s novel) and Curtis Hanson’s (8 Mile, Wonder Boys) direction, and what makes In Her Shoes not just-another-chick-flick, elevates it to something actually profound and wise: Maggie is not cute, and she is not likable, at least not at first.
So few movies are actually “grownup” — not in the boring traditional sense of getting shackled to a mortgage and a corporate job that sucks away your soul because that’s what you’re “supposed” to do, but in the sense of living life to the fullest while also being responsible for your own self and not expecting others to take care of you but knowing it’s a great thing to find someone without whom you can have a reciprocal taking-care-of relationship, whether that’s with a friend or a spouse or a sibling. But In Her Shoes is so refreshing in how it can’t be broken it down into clichés and stereotypes — Rose and Maggie are not what you think they’re gonna be and what they learn from each other is not as drastic as what you’d expect: Rose does not become a raging sex addict and Maggie does not become a buttoned-down dowdy but they learn how to be more fully rounded people without giving up their own essences. And you just don’t really see movies like this that understand and appreciate the special madnesses of women in our culture that sends us all sorts of mixed messages about what we’re supposed to be. So this is one of those chick flicks that acknowledges that some women can certainly be asinine and irrational without letting them get away with it — it’s sort of a smack, a wake-up call, as if to say: Hey, grow the fuck up. As someone pretty much says to Maggie at one point.
And I’m sorry this is true, but it is: Toni Collette has always been a goddess and always will be, so there’s nothing surprising in how amazing and insightful and reality-based down-to-earth gorgeous she is here. You just expect her to be incredible, and it would only be noteworthy if she wasn’t. But Cameron Diaz? Who knew the girl could act, was willing to be unlikable onscreen, could use her physical beauty — and man, she is all legs — almost in a negative way, to challenge you to think not only about Maggie but about her own celebrity self as more than just a sex bomb? Well, okay, there’s Being John Malkovich, but that’s a movie from another universe of weird, not something that tricks you into thinking it’s gonna be stupid fluff and then dumps its heavy but still very enjoyable load on you.
I kinda never thought I’d say so, but the Diaz chick is kinda my hero.