In Her Shoes

(2005) *** Pg-13
130 min. 20th Century Fox. Director: Curtis Hanson. Cast: Cameron Diaz, Toni Collette, Shirley MacLaine, Mark Feuerstein, Ken Howard.

Jennifer Weiner's novel In Her Shoes gets the deluxe Hollywood treatment from the screenwriter of Erin Brockovich and the director of L.A. Confidential. If Curtis Hanson dilutes the acid taste of Wonder Boys in favor of James L. Brooks-y dramedy, and screenwriter Susannah Grant ties tidy bows out of every plot thread, star power takes In Her Shoes a long way.

Cameron Diaz, Toni Collette, and Shirley MacLaine—as two sisters and their long-lost grandmother—make the most of three characters who need each other more than they know. Diaz's Maggie is a tarty, free-spirited layabout, and Collette's Rose allows her low self-esteem to set her limitations ("I've felt horrible about myself for my whole life," she laments). Each is an endless source of frustration for the other, and their button-pushing cold war—on the urban battlegrounds of Philadelphia—drives Maggie to seek out MacLaine's Ella in a Florida retirement community.

Reconciliation and self-improvement are on the feel-good agenda, and almost all of the supporting characters are exaggerated clichés (Francine Beers offends good taste as Ella's mouthy best friend), so why does In Her Shoes work? For starters, Grant sweetly taps into evergreen women's issues and neuroses (a scene depicting Rose's desire to turn the lights off for sex manages to be funny and poignant) without ever sacrificing a good zinger. Then there's Hanson, who treats the material and his star trio with respect.

Diaz proves exasperating once again, but since she's once again playing an exasperating character, she's doing her job well (range isn't everything). Collette verifies her unheralded status as one of the top actresses of her generation; radiating Rose's aching longing, Collette expertly navigates the comedy-drama minefield with nary a false note. If Collette is in her prime, a still-riveting MacLaine hasn't lost her touch; when she looks on screen, she sees plenty, and when she hears, she's clearly listening—two actorly tasks that are more difficult than they sound.

By the tidy resolutions, In Her Shoes has jerked every tear in the "chick-lit" book (this movie's "You complete me"? "I carry your heart"), but the fertile combination of Hanson, Grant, and the stars allows blossoms of truth and humor to spring up out of the mulch.

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