In Adaptation, Charlie Kaufman used sibling rivalry to illuminate The Orchid Thief‘s larger questions of being. The wrangling between twin opposites teased at the ways human psychology and biology resonate with patterns in the natural world: evolution, symbiosis, growth, decay. The sustained joke hinged on the effects of desired and incidental cross-pollination. Curtis Hanson didn’t need to invent dueling sisters to get at the soul (sole?) of Jennifer Weiner’s chick lit In Her Shoes. They were right there for him: bubbly Maggie, the party-girl grifter and closet dyslexic who pilfers sis’s petty cash and Jimmy Choos; and frumpy Rose, the closet closet-freak lawyer who curates her Hold Everything shoe cubbies with no intention of stepping out. When sisterly acrimony escalates to betrayal, Maggie jets Philly for Miami, where time spent with their estranged grandmother resets her clock.
It’s an interesting choice for Hanson, who, after guy-fueled flicks like
Wonder Boys and 8 Mile, tries doing his thing backwards and in heels. It almost works, too. Cameron Diaz and Toni Collette, who seem just a touch old and a little too gorgeous for the roles of Maggie and Rose, are smart choices for this blend of slapstick and sentiment. Hanson’s angles are fresh, his palettes pleasing. And though it might disappoint Manolo-holics, the decorporn is kept to a minimum.
But from the start, writer Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich) resorts to clunky exposition that strains the necessary belief that the sisters are twin-close. When they get a chance, Diaz and the always great Collette do right by their scripted tiffs and affections, but none of the banter conveys Adaptation‘s familial mind-meld, or the visceral hate-love that oozes from the sibs in Arrested Development. We crave more of the rapid slang and secret code that, by excluding us, creates intimacy.
That said, the Miami scenes verily glow, as grandma Ella’s golden gal pals coax warm sitcom-laughs and a sunbathing Maggie shakes up the shuffleboard crew (and, goofily, overcomes her fear of reading with the help of Elizabeth Bishop and an infirm ex-professor—oy). The best moments belong to Shirley MacLaine, who makes the clipped script sing as Ella, carrier of dark family secrets. Ella looks at her granddaughters with exquisite pride and pain.
And Diaz is at her muted best in MacLaine’s presence, seemingly inspired by the redolent gravitas to drop her little-girl coo and reveal a new darkness at the edge of youth. It looks good on her.