We’re all works-in-progress

Sometimes it’s hard to believe you’re related.

That’s the reality for Maggie and Rose Feller, the central characters in the 2005 film In Her Shoes, a comedy-drama available on DVD at Whitehorse Public Library.

Maggie (Cameron Diaz) is a freewheeling party girl who doesn’t seem to ha

ve much on her mind except men and clothes — especially the shoes her older sister collects but never wears. Rose (Toni Collette), Maggie’s sister, is a workaholic lawyer with zero confidence in her physical appeal.

The sisters are connected by a difficult childhood — their mother died when they were young — and antipathy toward their appalling stepmother (Candice Azzara).

Maggie is chronically underemployed, and that, along with a tendency to leave chaos in her wake, causes friction between the sisters, erupting in a devastating argument that ends with Maggie out on her own.

However, Maggie discovers a grandmother she didn’t know she had, and heads south to Florida to connect. There, she finds the recently-widowed Ella (Shirley MacLaine) and, shamelessly, moves in on this related stranger.

Ella’s not a fool, but she is a grandmother and she makes Maggie an offer she can’t refuse. In the unlikely setting of a retirement community, Maggie takes tentative steps towards rebuilding her confidence and shaping a life for herself. Back in Philadelphia, Rose has made a few changes, too: she left her law firm for the less lucrative occupation of dog walking and embarks on a serious relationship.

Based on a novel by Jennifer Weiner and adapted for the screen by Susannah Grant, In Her Shoes could have played out like a sitcom, but the film is given quality treatment by director Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential). Even the paintings in Rose’s apartment chosen with care. His attentiveness extends to each character in the film, especially the elder citizens of the retirement complex, who are as entertaining and vital to the story’s momentum as the lead characters.

Especially touching is the performance of Norman Lloyd, a veteran actor who was in his 90s when the film was made. He plays a bedridden former professor who gently tutors Maggie through the dyslexia that’s devastated her self-esteem, which proves pivotal in her journey.

Francine Beers, as Mrs. Lefkowitz, a sounding board for Ella, is given some of the best lines.

Shirley MacLaine is surprisingly low-key and subtle, evoking the more restrained personality of her younger self — a welcome departure from her more flamboyant performances of her later years.

Cameron Diaz is a fearless actress, not afraid to be unlikable, and Toni Collette is equally committed — gaining 25 pounds to play Rose.

This is an uplifting film, with its reminder that we’re all works-in-progress and that it’s never too late to change. It’s a serious message, but often funny and surprising in its delivery.

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