Year Released: 2005
Directed by: Curtis Hanson
Starring: Cameron Diaz, Toni Collette, Shirley MacLaine, Mark Feuerstein, Norman Lloyd, Francine Beers
(PG-13, 130 min.)
"Something there is that doesn’t love a wall." Robert Frost
In Her Shoes is not the comedic romp you might expect. Just when you are comfortably strapped in for the customary ride, the characters refuse to follow course and take you on a road less traveled by. All too easily lost in familiar trappings, this may be one of the best films of 2005.
Much of the credit goes to the script and deft direction where characters, like onions, are revealed one layer at a time. The three leads create an ensemble cast that is excellent, understated, and surprisingly credible.
Maggie (Cameron Diaz) and her sister Rose (Toni Collette) couldn’t be more different, as the two opposing amorous opening scenes reveal. Rose, a hard working lawyer, has embarked on a love affair with a coworker and finds having a man beside her in bed is so unusual that she feels compelled to capture his photo as he sleeps beside her. Cut to Maggie, whose drunken passion at her ten-year high school reunion is interrupted by the urge to vomit. How fortunate that she is already in a toilet stall.
The latest of Maggie’s transgressions gets her kicked out the comfortable digs she still mooches from Dad and a stepmother right out of the pages of the Brothers Grimm. She lands at Rose’s tidy apartment and soon turns it and her sister’s life into ruins. It’s not enough that she plunders through the drawers looking for petty cash, leaves the droppings of her refrigerator raids strewn all over, pilfers her sister’s one extravagance, designer shoes, but even when she is trying to do the right thing, it is a disaster. Rejecting the circled help wanted adds Rose has carefully marked for her, Maggie lights upon an add for MTV and somehow scrounges the credit to fly to New York for an audition. Everything is very promising until she has to use a teleprompter, whereupon her inability to read once again catches up to her.
Setting her sights much lower, Maggie finally finds employment as a dog groomer, and receives careful instructions on how to massage the anal glands situated at the dog’s derriere, which when you think about it, isn’t that much different than working for MTV. On the second day of work she has the ill luck to have her car towed and the shared ride (and drinks) with two guys to the impoundment yard ends badly. Just when we are beginning to have the initial smatterings of sympathy for her and perhaps a little indignation that Rose asks her to leave, (after finding a tire lock on her car – yes it was after all Rose’s car that Maggie borrowed to get to work) Maggie blows it. Rose’s newly found beau stops by to deliver her a tender bouquet of flowers and Maggie promptly seduces him.
The script takes an unfamiliar turn when Maggie finds something other than petty cash as she once again sorts through drawers. This time the scene is at her father’s house, and she finds a stash of letters dating back some twenty years. All are unopened cards and letters from the grandparents she thought were dead. After snatching up the assorted five and ten dollar bills tucked into the cheerful cards one sends to young children, Maggie makes for the train station. Perhaps it is only the hopes of another familial free ride, but Maggie changes her ticket from New York and goes instead to the return address on all those envelopes, Deerfield Beach in Florida.
Shirley MacLaine plays widowed Grandmother Ella with just the right amount of loving shrewdness. And her friend Mts. Lefkowitz (Francine Beers) may be limited to a motorized scooter, but her brain is running on all cylinders. She correctly labels Maggie, or Miss Hotsie Totsie as she calls her, one supreme manipulator. But somehow the ready smile and curvaceous body don’t work their usual magic in the retirement kingdom. Ella doesn’t raise her voice or even an eyebrow when she catches Maggie rooting through her drawers. Instead she challenges her to get a job at the assisted living center and promises to match whatever salary she gets.
It is at the assisted living center that the pinnacle scene of the film occurs. A retired English professor, now blind, asks Maggie to read to him. She puts him off several times and finally tells him that she is a slow reader, but he says he is a slow listener and coaxes her to read him Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art.” Slowly with a few missteps, she gets through it and heaves a sigh of relief. But he is not content. She must tell him what it means to her. It’s about losing things, and Maggie, experienced in that game, has some real insight. The poet is only pretending to be casual about loss, and she rightly guesses the subject of the loss, not a lover as the professor coyly suggests, but a friend. “A plus,” he tells her and the smile that transfixes her face is the beginning of a glow that gradually works though all of Maggie. Somehow in this last haven for those waiting to die, she finds in herself a new life and purpose.
In the meantime, Rose is working through her own loss--not so much the beau she discovers in bed with Maggie, but as in Bishop’s poem, the loss of friendship; in this case, her sister whom she cannot bring herself to forgive for this ultimate transgression. She dumps her prestigious job at the law firm and becomes a professional dog walker. On one of these walks she bumps into a former colleague and this shy but persistent young man sets about to heal and win her heart.
Like the Bishop poem In Her Shoes is about loss. The death of Ella’s daughter, Maggie and Rose’s mother, is a stone thrown in a pond with ripples reaching to the shore. It has affected each of them in silent waves of grief and loneliness, the ramifications measured out by slow degrees as the film progresses. But In Her Shoes also goes beyond loss as all three women change each other, rebuilding fragile alliances and gradually opening themselves up to the power of love and redemption.
Perhaps one reason In Her Shoes is labeled a Chick Flick is that the guys in it are modeled from the feminine perspective. The bad ones are creepier and the good ones almost unbelievably perfect.
In a strange sense, Simon, the colleague who ultimately woos Rose, plays “the woman.” He captures her heart through cooking – not his but that of the chefs at the wonderful restaurants to which he shepherds her. And he insists that she talk to him, threatening at one point to break off the engagement if she will not unburden her heart to him.
His first dinner out is to a sushi restaurant, the second to a gourmet’s delight where he sets our taste buds afire with a mere mention of the menu – something about Roquefort Baked Avocados, and Pigeons Stuffed with Plums – but his real favorite is a very earthy hole in the wall that serves Jamaican food, where the atmosphere is “on the plate.”
One night he orders a mouth-watering shrimp dish and Rose sees a diamond ring nestled around the shellfish. You can recreate the meal here, but I can’t guarantee that it will come with a proposal.
- 2 lbs. fresh or frozen large shrimp in shells (fresh is best)
- 1/4 cup salad oil
- 3 tbsp. white wine vinegar
- 2 tbsp. lime juice
- 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded, finely chopped (use scotch bonnet peppers if you want)
- 1 tbsp. honey
- 2 tsp. Jamaican Jerk Seasoning (recipe follows)
- 1 medium mango, peeled, pitted, sliced, halved crosswise
- 1 small lime, halved lengthwise and sliced
- 1 small red onion, quartered and thinly sliced
In large saucepan, cook fresh or frozen shrimp, uncovered, in lightly salted boiling water for 1 to 3 minutes until shrimp turns pink. Drain and cool. Peel shrimp, leaving tails intact; devein. Place shrimp in a heavy plastic bag. At this point, you can seal the bag and chill for up to 24 hours.
In a screw-top jar, combine salad oil, white wine vinegar, lime juice, jalapeno pepper, honey and Jamaican Jerk seasoning. Cover and shake well to mix; pour over shrimp in plastic bag. Cover and chill for 1 hour, turning bag occasionally.
Drain shrimp, reserving marinade. In a large serving bowl, layer shrimp, mango, lime slices and onion, repeating till all are used. Drizzle reserved marinade atop.
Recipe Source: Recipe Link (Jeane Bell)