What’s in a chick flick? This is often a derogative denomination, but sometimes it’s just a descriptive referring to a genre. So many films revolve around men that when all the main characters are women, it does feel particular. Not that this also means only women can enjoy a so-called chick flick. In the case of “In Her Shoes”, it wasn’t even made by a chick but by Curtis Hanson, whose better known pictures revolve around policemen and rappers. Adding even more testosterone behind the scenes are producers Ridley and Tony Scott, filmmakers who’ve mostly made macho action movies (though Ridley did direct “Thelma and Louise”).
Then again, the screenplay was written by a girl, Susannah Grant, adapting a novel from another girl, Jennifer Weiner. It kind of has that Nora Ephron feel (I mean that in a good way, as a fan of her Hanks-Ryan rom-coms), but with an edgier, less romanticized outlook. You laugh, you cry, but you also marvel at how effortlessly masterful Hanson’s direction is. While not as quirky and stimulating as Wonder Boys, which remains his masterpiece, “In Her Shoes” displays the same intelligence and trust in the audience’s. I love how unforced the storytelling is, how there is practically no exposition. The characters are defined by their actions, and whatever back-story we need to know we gather from casual conversations along the way.
I haven’t read the Weiner book, but I suspect that it must draw out much more broadly the character arcs and the way this or that event has made the women on screen into what they are. Whereas in the film, while you can point out those clichés, they still come through naturally and unforced. So Cameron Diaz is a slutty, unemployed wreck while sister Toni Collette is a successful, reasonable lawyer. They constantly clash and eventually have a huge falling out, but you can easily predict that they’ll find their way back towards each other. The bimbo will learn to be responsible, the goody-two-shoes will learn to have fun, etc.
Here I am making this sound like a total chick flick at its worse, but how can I convey the subtlety and grace that elevate everything, making the plot feel almost like a second thought? It’s nothing spectacular, nothing I can just take out of context and put in front of you and say, there, how great is that? It’s all the small things, the throwaway lines, the dogs. The way Diaz embraces the unspoken pathos of her usual crazy sexy funny persona (anyone that upbeat has to be compensating for something), the tears we shed with Collette, the genuine happiness we feel for her when she finds herself. The “retirement community for active seniors” and Shirley MacLaine, still amazing after all those years, playing the grandmother the girls didn’t know they had, who has nothing and everything to do with everything else.
What’s in a chick flick? I still feel like I’m damning the film with faint praise, failing to find the words to convincingly describe what makes it somewhat exceptional, but maybe you can read between the lines and sense what I responded to through “In Her Shoes”. Or not. But do see it, it’s worth your while, whether your genitals are on the inside or not.