a seemingly random journey through cinema's heart of darkness. so to speak.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

In Her Shoes (Curtis Hanson) [B-]

So, like, the last ten minutes of this movie were shot in my then-neighborhood. Surreal stuff. Anyway. It might seem strange to decode this mostly harmless and even moderately affecting chicklit adaptation along auteuristical lines, as Curtis Hanson seems to be spending his career trying to decimate the theory piece by piece. Having earned his laurels for what was essentially a job well done, he’s since made a freewheeling Chabon adaptation/Michael Douglas show-off piece, an Eminem vanity project, and now an all-out, unembarrassed chick flick. In other words, he’s used his newfound artisitic freedom and name recognition to continue being a studio workhorse. (Only he’s the boss.) And yet he’s not a Michael Curtiz. His films don’t live and die by the material, and yet he’s never fully involved with them; he mostly gets out of their way, but he also brings along a certain well-honed craft. I’m pretty sure he was never totally committed to, among other things, the arbitrary machinations of Jennifer Weiner’s plot, and yet he clearly believes in the emotions running under them, particularly those involving some very real feelings of inadequacy. (Cameron’s dyslexia -- in one of the film’s many refrains from spoon-feeding, a problem not explicity mentioned till over an hour in -- was the closest I came to a blubbering mess.) In fact, most of what Hanson does is find the nuances in a readymade tearjerker -- or not give said nuances the old Hollywood spit and polish. (I.e., never read the book, but audience members nodded their heads, smiled, and said loudly enough, “That was a good adaptation.” Which, come to think of it, I never hear, or think.) Diaz, as the party girl sister, is in fact pretty unappealing -- boringly self-possessed and prone to the kind of self-pity that only somewhat encourages empathy and almost never sympathy. Toni Collette, as the sensible (and apparently “fat”) sister, has a snobbish streak but also a hard-earned bullshit detector -- or at least Collette knows how to give her litany of harsh-truth lines a fresh spin. Everything is set up for a well-meaning but distasteful revenge fantasy (guess which sister is Weiner), with Diaz sent through the ringer on her way to self-actualization, selflessness, maturity, etc., et al. And the film does this, but in what has to be the least painful way possible while still delivering the goods. Weiner’s tale introduces some serious issues, some of which it can’t quite handle (notably mental illness and suicide). But neither does it make a meal of them, preferring to hint at traumatic issues while acknowleding that they simply affect the protagonists in ways they would rather not deal with. (Note Shirley MacLaine’s line about pictures of loved ones only encouraging questions.) It should also be noted that Hanson is hardly the slacker: dig how Collette looks completely different from scene-to-scene, as at home in glasses as contacts, as comfortable as a day-off slob as she is in spiffed-up work clothes. The film is by no means a Clean, but it’s not too far off, working a surprisingly effective balancing act even while it leaves you wishing it could’ve been a bit braver and had even less pop-pysch bullshit. It’s a damning-with-faint-praise kind of deal: this is the best adaptation such dicey material could ever hope for. Good job, Hanson. I mean, shit, man, you got me to write a mini-dissertation on a fucking chicklit movie.

(Note to Philadelphians: this movie, in part, is an advertisement for the Jamaican Jerk Hut. Note to location scouters: leave the Art Museum steps alone already.)


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