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click to enlarge Rose (Toni Collette) has the best time ever walking dogs - for a living.
  • Rose (Toni Collette) has the best time ever walking dogs for a living.

*In Her Shoes (PG-13)
Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Tinseltown

C urtis Hanson's detour from testosterone-laden texts (L.A. Confidential, Wonder Boys, 8 Mile) to chick lit -- a screen adaptation of Jennifer Weiner's popular novel In Her Shoes -- is an imperfect success.

While Hanson strains to compress the plots and subplots of a novel into a smooth, snappy and coherent screenplay, he again affirms his ability to draw the best performances out of his actors.

In Her Shoes wanders for 130 minutes, about 30 too many, between the worlds of Maggie Mae Feller (Cameron Diaz), a pretty party girl whose direction in life is obscured by a literacy problem and a careless attitude, and Rose Feller (Toni Collette), Maggie's serious and seriously plodding older and more successful sister.

Rose, a lawyer stuck in a job that gives her no pleasure, satisfies herself by buying expensive shoes and stocking her orderly closet with a collection of stilettos that would make Carrie from "Sex and the City" cringe with envy. Maggie, a natural grifter, regularly steals the shoes that Rose never wears.

When Maggie slips into Rose's bed with a man Rose just has fallen for, the sisters' falling out sets the film in motion. Maggie runs away to Florida to meet and potentially fleece her estranged grandmother, Ella (Shirley MacLaine), while Rose quits her day job and begins a more carefree dog-walking business, venturing out of her head into the physical world.

From here, we get a healthy dose of indirect self-help. Maggie discovers, with Ella's assistance, how to work for money and how to respect the lives of others, while Rose learns to cut loose with newfound love Simon (Mark Feuerstein), a good Jewish boy.

The question of when and how the sisters will reconcile lingers over most of the film (and I won't disclose the details). Through Ella, both sisters learn more about their mother, who died when they were girls, and in the last half hour, moments of extended throat lumps are plentiful.

The pedestrian plot of In Her Shoes is more than salvaged by the performances of its terrific cast. Diaz and Collette make a great pair of sisters, and MacLaine's Ella is the grandmother of their dreams.

Diaz does some of the best work of her career here, looking a little worn as Maggie, a sadness lingering behind her ditzy grin. Her scenes in an assisted living center with a blind, dying former college professor are especially touching.

Collette subtly plays the overburdened responsible sister, her face reddening and crumpling into tears at key moments. Her reluctance in romance will resonate truthfully and soundly with most viewers.

MacLaine is more toned down here than in most of her post-middle-age outings, bringing dignity and intelligence to the role of Ella. She can give a look that speaks volumes (better than any other actor I can think of), and she watches a lot, contemplating all she's missed with her granddaughters, how she failed her own daughter and what she's made of her life. An Academy Award nod for supporting actress wouldn't be a stretch or a surprise.

In Her Shoes tells a slim story well, avoids many of the pitfalls of the built-in stereotypes it visits, and is guilty only of wandering a bit too long on somewhat wobbly heels.

-- Kathryn Eastburn

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