Some time ago, I was blown away by the movie In Her Shoes. I tried to describe it to friends as: two sisters who are opposites, one, the beauty, one the dumpy intellectual, have a falling out, which makes them search for and find themselves and each other. And it was then I realised what a cliche Curtin Hanson’s movie sounded like.
I guess that’s why it crashed and burned at the box office, because it sounds like a cliche . But In Her Shoes is much more then a cliche. It looks at the truth behind stereotypes and delivers characters that are complex so that even when they behave badly, you can understand why they do what they do.
Shoes is the story is two women, two sisters, the dumpy, brilliant Rose (played by our own Toni Collette) and the beautiful, charming Maggie (Cameron Diaz) . Maggie is possible the first character I’ve met where her beauty is actually justified; sure, she’s beautiful, but her beauty has, at best, been a blessing and a curse. Her beauty has brought her men; but she’s never learned anything other then being beautiful. She’s illiterate, and cannot relate to other people; she cannot do basic maths in her head; she cannot see a world beyond physical beauty. And on some level, she knows, being in her thirties, her beauty will not last.
Why should she? She’s always had her brainy sister Rose to bail her out.
Meanwhile, Rose has fared little better. Sure, she’s brainy. But in being brainy, she has missed out on the physical beauty of the world. She is afraid that the world will reject her academia and her plain looks, so she stays in her academia. She has hidden from the world, justifying the world would not find her beautiful so she may as well stay home and hide.
And therein lies the cliche. Maggie has a wonderful external world but a limited internal world; Rose has a wonderful internal world but a limited external world.
So Maggie, in her pursuit of men who will admire her – because it’s the only thing she knows – seduces Rose’s boyfriend. This is never portrayed as a woman being a bitch; rather, a woman who knows she must seduce as many men she can in the time she has left to be beautiful. And Rose, feeling deeply betrayed, throws Maggie out.
Maggie moves to her grandmother’s old homes estate, ostensibly to leach off old people, but she learns a lot from them. About being yourself, because at the end of the day, that’s all you’ll know how to be. I never thought much of Cameron Diaz as an actress until I saw a scene where she genuinely mourns an old man she had grown fond of.
This is never portrayed as a women-only thing; I could just as easily imagine two brothers, one who looked like James Marsden, one who looked like, well, the male version of Toni Collette, going through the same thing. The beautiful one and the plain one. It never came across as a gender thing.
Meanwhile, through a plot development I didn’t think much of, Rose learns that much of external beauty comes from internal beauty. She finds happiness in herself, and through a man she meets while Maggie is AWOL.
The last third of the movie is hurried, although I think that’s mostly Hanson thinking he should be coming in within time then anything else, and a waste of an amazing kick-in-the-teeth or two stereotypes, but I don’t think I’ll ever forget such, well, amazing kick-in-the-teeth stereotypes. Diaz is the beauty who knows beauty is only skin deep and learns external beauty is as important as internal beauty; Collette is the dumpy intellectual who learns internal beauty is about being beautiful to yourself.
For such a lesson, I would gladly walk a mile. In my stiletto-heeled boots, no less.