Review: In Her Shoes (2005)

I watched ‘In Her Shoes’, the 2005 film, for the first time in years the other day, and I noticed some things about it that I hadn’t noticed before. I wanted to talk about these things a bit. (I know it’s an old film, but it’s available on Amazon Prime at the moment, so if by the end of this you’re curious you can find it over there!)

The first thing I noticed: it seems to have that abundance of subplots you often find in films adapted from books. I think this is because the author has more wriggle room than a film director – you don’t have to budget for the extra cash being spent on the actors for a new subplot, for example, you just have to write it.

Here is the plot boiled down to its essentials: two sisters learn the truth about what happened to their mother, while learning to love each other along the way.

This is quite a loaded plot as it is, and you could spend a couple of hours untangling this on the screen without having to go any further. Add Maggie’s dyslexia to it, Rose losing her job, both sisters falling in and out of love, meeting their grandmother, their grandmother finding love, both sisters starting their own businesses, and the perils of mismanaging mental health and you suddenly have a lot of story to unknot.

I think the film still manages to pull it off, which is commendable, but even after watching it I’m not quite sure how it did. The final scene left me feeling satisfied but also discombobulated: after all that side-story, they still weren’t able to explain why, at the end, (SPOILER) Rose decides to get married in a Caribbean Jerk House, which the family seems to have a connection to that wasn’t explained in the film (END SPOILER).

If anything, now I feel I need to read the book to see how far these subplots go when they are given the room to stretch across the page. The author, Jennifer Weiner, has gone on to write a dozen or so more books (including one that the author finished editing just this week), so I assume she has the skill to juggle several plots without dropping any of them. I may have to dip into it and see what it’s like. If you’ve read the book, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

Would the film have been stronger if they’d trimmed it back a bit? Sure, probably. Maggie learning to read is superfluous, but the moment (SPOILER) when she reads her speech at her sister’s wedding at the end is probably the most touching and original in the whole film, and shows how her character has changed since the start, when she was living with her parents and being sick on a guy she didn’t know at her 10-year high school reunion. (END SPOILER).

They could probably have cut out Rose starting her own dog-walking business after she lost her job, because that seemed like the subplot with the fewest connections to the rest of the story, but it also served an important role in showing us that she isn’t just a cold, hard legal mind: she can have fun, too. And considering how harshly she treats her sister in the beginning, the sympathetic scenes soften our opinion of her somewhat.

I suppose this all boils down to the age-old problem of adapting a piece of work from one form to another. People often complain that books translated into film lose some of their ‘life’, and I wonder if the director here tried to avoid that by keeping so much of the story. But then people like me complain that the film felt saturated and try to work out where they could have cut corners.

If you’re interested, I’d definitely give it a watch. It has stuck with me more than any other film I’ve watched this week, which tends to be the case with adapted novel films. Even if I can’t quite figure out why.

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