Leaving behind the utter trash-TV awesomeness of her rich-celebrity-international-waste-of-time-hiking-trip show “Trippin’,” Cameron Diaz returns to the screen for the first time in two years in director Curtis Hanson’s (“8 Mile”) dramedy “In Her Shoes.” The film, adapted from the chick-lit novel by Jennifer Weiner, starts out rather labored and almost unbearably trite, but it somehow, almost miraculously, comes together in the second half and manages to be smart, touching and perhaps even inspiring.

Film Reviews
“Yes, it is necessary that my bra be exposed in this shot.”
(Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox)

The film centers on Maggie (Diaz) and Rose (Toni Collette, “The Sixth Sense”), two unlikely sisters that no one would guess are siblings based on their attitudes or looks. Maggie is a lazy slob who has no job and doesn’t really want one, preferring to mooch off of her rich, over-achieving sister. But Maggie’s irresponsible behavior finally crosses the line and a seemingly irreparable rift develops between the two. Only when they get in touch with their seemingly nonexistent family and discover a tragic secret from their childhood will the two sisters come to realize how much they mean to each other.

Though the relationship between the two sisters takes an unconscionably long time to develop, it is ultimately what makes the film work. In terms of character, it’s only when the two are apart that we get to truly know each one, understand their troubles and appreciate their respective plights. By showing the character growth of each sister separately, the movie keeps the viewers in the dark about the final outcome, all the while holding interest with an infectious, simple charm.

Diaz’s Maggie is initially a character that the audience would love to hate – an apathetic, self-centered manipulator who uses people to get what she wants without ever doing anything herself. Yet when we find out more about her struggles and solemn past, it becomes impossible not to cheer for her as she finally begins to reform her life. Her sister, Rose, goes through a similar process of growth and finally learns that there are more important things in life than work and money. By the end, both sisters’ journeys are rich and enchanting stories of what a person can accomplish if given the chance.

The film tackes character and family issues that are surprisingly complex and handled with deft insight. Through the sisters’ rampant bickering and conflicting loves of a father and grandmother and an utter monstrosity of a stepmother, the film portrays real family conflicts with intelligent grace. Though the ultimate solutions to these problems are unrealistically saccharine sweet, the film doesn’t deny the occasional tragedy of life and shows that with a little support and love, all obstacles are surmountable.

Often light and giggly, though thoughtful where it counts, “In Her Shoes” is the rare film that audiences will get more out of than they might expect. It makes for a fine change of pace from the overbearing crop of recent thrillers and inanely “humorous” comedies and should be enjoyed by an unexpectedly wide range of audiences – assuming they wait around until the story picks up.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

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