Bridget Jones and her diaries of modern-girl neuroses were both a blessing and a curse. The book was refreshing, but spawned an industry of bland copycats, a subgenre known as “chick-lit.” Coupled with Sex and the City, the trend spawned an industry of chick-lit flicks — meaning that over the past eight years hardly an inch of the twenty- to thirtysomething yuppie feminine experience has gone uncharted. The worst chick-lit flicks make a gal want to hurl her Frappuccino smoothie; but some, like In Her Shoes, transcend the genre and all the cosmopolitan-guzzling frivolity the label usually brings with it.

Based on Jennifer Weiner’s book of the same title, director Curtis Hanson (8 Mile, L.A. Confidential) and screenwriter Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich) add weight to Weiner’s prose — which is already smarter than your average girlie book. Hanson and company create a portrait of family ties that’s as much about siblinghood in general as it is about sisterhood, and delves into shoes and shopping only as a digression. Then there are the three fabulously dynamic performances from the movie’s stars — Cameron Diaz, Toni Collette and Shirley MacLaine.

Collette is Rose, a stuffy lawyer at a top Philadelphia firm whose commitment to work runs so deep that her collection of Manolo Blahniks never sees pavement unless her freeloading sister Maggie (Diaz) has stolen a pair.

As miserable and uptight as Rose may seem, Maggie is far too loose for her own good, bouncing around from friends’ and family’s sofabeds with her worldly possessions inside a black garbage bag. Functionally illiterate and unable to hold down a job, Maggie feels her only assets are her good looks and fashion sense. An act of betrayal on Maggie’s part severs the sisters’ relationship, spilling pent-up family tensions everywhere. Maggie finds her way to Ella (MacLaine), a grandmother the sisters thought was dead, while Rose takes stock and decides to make a radical lifestyle change. It’s, of course, inevitable that the family will patch things up — but they don’t get there too easily.

The movie is about reinvention and redemption. The sisters have to find courage to break away from the courses that seem set for them since birth — Maggie has better things to offer than just being the dumb, cute one; Rose is more dynamic than her smarts or the size of her 401(k).

Hanson delivers a movie in which people relate to each other on a very human level — they get cranky, pout, shout and say the wrong things — and there’s a good deal of squirming before they make it right. It’s far better stuff than just the canned sitcom-grade sarcasm and sentimentality one would expect from a story about sisters and shoe-shopping.

Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].

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