We meet sisters Rose and Maggie Feller having separate sexual encounters on the same night. In a rare turn, Rose is bedding a fellow lawyer from her Philadelphia firm. Maggie, at her 10-year high school reunion, is conducting business as usual—having drunken sex in a men’s room stall with a guy she doesn’t know.
We delve into their love/hate relationship when Rose is called from bed to pick up her wasted sister. Rose, who leans toward frumpy repression, is all about being responsible, working long hours, and looking for true love. Maggie, barely literate, lives on impulse, using her sexuality, good looks and a string of failed jobs to get by. They’re forced together when Maggie is kicked out of her dad and stepmom’s house and retreats to Rose’s couch.
Though Rose and Maggie clearly like each other, they’ve got very little in common. Sharing only a love for high heel shoes—which Rose collects but never wears and Maggie constantly steals—the pair clash over Maggie’s mooching, joblessness and a predictable betrayal. The resulting falling out separates them for a long sabbatical, during which Maggie descends on their long-lost grandmother’s retirement community in Miami and Rose reluctantly begins dating a new man. When the girls finally reunite, they must find a way to forgive and reestablish family bonds.
All three main characters grow in significant ways. Rose deals with her low self-esteem, learning through a loving relationship to trust another person to accept her as she is. Maggie, too, faces down her low opinion of herself, accepting the gentle guidance of her grandmother (and others living in her community) to take responsibility for her own income, actions and relationships. Ella, the pair’s grandmother, embraces her duty both to get involved in the girls' lives and to heal a long-severed relationship with her son-in-law. Specifically, Ella shows both wisdom and love in setting boundaries for Maggie, while supporting her sacrificially. Also, Ella and the other senior citizens are framed with respect, compassion and even a little depth.
A Jewish mother is said to be disappointed because her beloved daughter, a minor character, has joined Jews for Jesus.
Maggie emphasizes her sexuality almost to the exclusion of everything else, especially early in the film. She reveals lots of cleavage along with most of her backside. The camera often lingers on her while she flaunts herself, wearing small bras, panties or bikinis. In addition to the opening scene in which she’s undressing and clumsily positioning herself for sex with a stranger in a bathroom, there’s also a brief glimpse of her in bed with a man later in the film. (Both incidents include sexual movements and sounds.) After the latter encounter, Maggie asks the man for $200, stating that that's the "going rate" these days. He pays up. When she takes up residence at the senior citizen community, Maggie is regularly ogled in her tiny bikini by the men at the pool. She encourages them by taking off her top to give the sun full access to her back.
It should be noted that Maggie is chided for her loose behavior by her sister and others. One lady complains that Maggie “puts a postage stamp on her bottom and calls it a swimsuit.” And the film makes it clear that this is a weakness for Maggie, one that doesn’t make her happy.
Rose also has premarital sex in the film with two different men (at separate times). We see her making out with both prior and in bed with both after. One reads her a fairly explicit sex scene from a romance novel to make her laugh and get them both in the mood for sex. After (instead of whispering sweet nothings in her ear) he asks if this makes him her “b--ch.”
Maggie tells her grandmother that she should “jump” a man at the community who is interested in and unexpectedly kisses her. We overhear some sexual dialogue from an episode of Sex and the City on TV. Worse, it is Sex and the City that seems to facilitate the turning point in Ella and Maggie's relationship. After Ella heeds the advice of her friends and gets cable TV, Maggie is drawn into her world and the two begin talking and warming up to each other.
A man in a bar makes a sexual comment to the sisters while trying to buy them drinks. Another man is seen wearing only boxers. Confounded by her thirtysomething son's singleness, a senior citizen exclaims that she wished he was gay, not just immature.
Maggie accepts a ride from two guys, one of whom comes on to her and tries to restrain her when she tries to leave. She fights back; the resulting brief exchange of blows leaves him hurting and her running scared. Frustrated to the point of desperation, Rose picks up a kitchen knife and threatens her stepmother with it.
Crude or Profane Language
The film includes 5-10 uses each of the s-word, “b--ch,” and God’s and Jesus’ names for swearing, along with a few uses of "a--." Crude comments include “getting screwed” and “getting laid,” and the girls gleefully repeat the word “vagina” in public for shock value.
Drug and Alcohol Content
We see Maggie drinking and drunk. She eventually recognizes her problem with alcohol and either quits or cuts back significantly. Other characters drink socially throughout the film.
Other Negative Elements
Maggie lies, steals and cheats. (Sometimes the film points out her actions as wrong.) Maggie and Rose’s stepmom treats them unkindly; they mock her repeatedly, as well.
It was a Bette Midler movie called Beaches. That’s the first time I realized two people can have powerfully different reactions to the same film seemingly based on gender alone. I remember glancing over at my wife to share a chuckle at the blatant and predictable emotional manipulation unfolding onscreen to the strains of “Wind Beneath My Wings.” What I saw, instead, were streams of sincere tears navigating her lovely cheeks. I sagely curbed my sarcastic tongue and understood anew that men and women are very different creatures.
Yes, the makers of In Her Shoes reveal acres of Cameron Diaz’s skin in hopes of drawing questionably motivated masculine eyes. But there’s no hiding the truth: In Her Shoes is a chick flick in the best and worst senses of that shorthand. It’s a movie about relationships in which the characters talk and talk and talk. Significant moments involve those characters learning to accept themselves, learning to trust each other, and, you know, “growing.” Removing all doubt, it’s a story about sisters that involves betrayal, the death of a significant loved one and, well, shoes!
But, of course, not all chick flicks are created equal. This one is definitely a mixed bag both artistically and in the messages it delivers. The first half passes slowly by any measure; there’s just not enough going on while the characters are being established. Diaz plays the puerile, sexually aggressive younger sister a little too convincingly. Toni Collette usually succeeds playing quirky characters; here, she’s very straight and a little less winning as the “mature” older sister struggling to find love with a co-worker. Things pick up when both characters start growing up in the second half of the film. And the old folks hanging out with a surprisingly understated Shirley Maclaine are a real hoot.
The big messages are positive: Eventually, families need to forgive and embrace one another, even if the hurts of the past are great. All of us must take responsibility for our own lives, but that’s made easier by supportive friends and family members. Sometimes, learning to love includes learning to let others love us.
But In Her Shoes stumbles in slathering on the sex, skin and profanity early on. Not only does it mix the messages (sex with the wrong guys or for the wrong reasons: bad idea; sex with the right guy: part of the path to true love and marriage), it will also limit the audience of women (and strong, sensitive guys) who might otherwise have been ready to cry, laugh and even grow with these characters. In spite of the touching sisterly emotions bubbling up as the credits roll, 130 minutes is an awfully long time to spend in these high heels.