Making the Grades
Sisters--you can't live with them, you can't live without them.
That sentiment describes perfectly the uneasy relationship between Rose Feller (Toni Collette) and her little sister Maggie (Cameron Diaz). After the death of their mother, their father (Ken Howard) marries a frigid, self-righteous woman (Candice Azzara) who makes Cinderella's stepmother look like a fairy godmother. Since then, the two girls have been each other's greatest advocates. They've also been each other's worst nemesis.
Always protective and conscientious, Rose has hovered over her younger sibling her entire life. Stepping in to shield her from the harsher consequences of life, she bails Maggie out of one drunken mess after another, dragging her home to sleep off the effects of the alcohol and her reckless activities.
But now Maggie is grown up and her childish antics aren't so cute. Unable to keep a job, she uses what she has (her good looks) to do what she does best (hit on men for drinks and sex). Prostituting herself in order to substantiate her worth, Maggie's downward spiral crashes when she purposely sleeps with Rose's boyfriend (Richard Burgi). Following a caustic confrontation, the women part ways.
Fortunately, during a habitual pilfering through her father's dresser drawers, Maggie discovers letters from her maternal grandmother who is still alive. Stealing enough cash to get herself to Florida, the unruly blonde shows up unexpectedly on her estranged grandma's doorstep in a well-kept retirement community.
Although she causes quite a stir sashaying to the pool in her postage stamp-sized swimwear, Maggie soon discovers that Ella Hirsch (Shirley MacLaine) and the other residents aren't pushovers. Full of good judgment, these sage seniors have a pretty good idea of what Maggie is up to. Rather than letting her scam them, they are the first to demand responsible actions from the out-of-control party girl.
Positive depictions of the elderly are only one appealing aspect of this film. In addition, the script takes a candid look at the childhood experiences and self-formed perceptions that often follow people into adulthood, hampering their ability to love, learn and act wisely. Struggling from a learning challenge, Maggie compensates for what she can't do by relying on her sex appeal. Likewise, Rose's sense of responsibility is so morphed out of proportion she is unable to see how it hurts her ability to form real relationships with her sister and others. Instead of facing her fears, she feeds her emotional hunger by hording hundreds of pairs of never-worn shoes in the back of the closet. Careful character development helps explain (but not justify) the ill-suited actions of other minor role players as well.
The writing also focuses on the intricacy of family relationships, including the complexity of intergenerational and in-law relationships. But rather than dismissing these situations as inevitable, the plot underscores the need for forgiveness and compassion between all participants.
While the adult story line and content concerns make this film unsuitable for most family members, parents may appreciate the well-crafted script that includes consequences and allows for the personal growth of the characters. After all, it's easier to understand someone else's behavior once you've walked In Her Shoes.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about In Her Shoes.
Rose feeds her emotional hunger by buying (but never wearing) numerous pairs of shoes. What other means do people use to satiate unmet needs? Why is giving up addictions like overeating, out-of-control shopping, drug and alcohol use, gambling etc. often much more complicated than simply walking away from the vice?
How do the senior citizens in this film positively interact with one another as well as younger generations? What effect can grandparents have on children that parents can’t?
Weddings can often be a catalyst for familial tensions. What affect does the stepmother’s actions have at the bridal shower? How does Ella’s behavior differ at the wedding? What role does forgiveness and understanding play in changing family dynamics?