Cameron Diaz as Maggie Feller
Toni Collette as Rose Feller
Mark Feuerstein as Simon Stein
Shirley MacLaine as Ella Hirsch
Anson Mount as Todd
Richard Burgi as Jim Danvers
Candice Azzara as Sydelle Feller
Ken Howard as Michael Feller
Brooke Smith as Amy
Jason Peck as Cuervo Carl
Carlease Burke as Bea
Eric Balfour as Grant
Andy Powers as Tim
Marcia Jean Kurtz as Mrs. Stein
Alan Blumenfeld as Mr. Stein
Jackie Geary as My Marcia
Jill Saunders as Lopey
Jerry Adler as Lewis Feldman
Francine Beers as Mrs. Lefkowitz
Ivana Milicevic as Caroline (in photos)
Three solid performances and fine direction from Curtis Hanson turns what could have been a mess of a film into a stirring personal drama with enough comedy to keep anyone entertained.
Maggie and Rose Feller (Cameron Diaz, Toni Collette) are two sisters who couldn’t be any more different. Maggie’s a dyslexic party girl who can’t hold a job while Rose is a successful lawyer who doesn’t have time to enjoy the hundreds of shoes she hoards in her closet. When Rose has had enough of Maggie’s flakiness, a fight between the two sisters sends them their separate ways.
Jennifer Weiner’s novel must have a huge page count based on all that happens in this film based on it, and it must have been quite a job getting it down to a reasonable length. That’s not to say that this is a bad thing because like most women, the two sisters at the core of the story, Maggie and Rose, are intricate puzzles assembled over the course of the months that pass over the course of two hours. While it’s easy enough to dismiss this film as another “chick flick,” there’s a lot more depth to this film than similar films, as each of the women goes through a very full story arc.
If the opening theme of Garbage’s “Stupid Girl” would have us believe it, Maggie is pretty, but dim, while her older sister Rose is smart, but has issues with her looks and appearance, which may be why she so falls into an interoffice “romance” that doesn’t stand a chance at working out. The two sisters lost their mother, a woman with mental problems who committed suicide, when they were young, and they were raised by a stepmother who treated them poorly because they could never stand up to her actual birth daughter.
Because of this, the two sisters learned to stick together and when Maggie is evicted from her apartment, Rose takes her in. Still, Maggie continues to get into trouble and there’s only so much Rose can take before her breaking point. She kicks Maggie out, and with nowhere to go, Maggie decides to use all her money to visit the grandmother in Florida who the girls never knew.
This is about an hour into the movie and you quickly realize that up until that point was all set-up for the real story where the sisters have to learn to fend for themselves while overcoming their personal issues. Fortunately, they both have help, Maggie in the form of her grandmother Ella (Shirley MacLaine), who was never allowed to see the girls grow up, and Rose finds a bit of romance in the form of Simon (Mark Feuerstein), a nice Jewish guy who offers ust the right amount of sympathy and tough love to help her get past her insecurities and learn to relax.
Under the aegis of any other director, this film might have been a disastrous mess, but Curtis Hanson (“8 Mile”) knows how to get memorable performance from his actors, and he brings out the best in his three leads. At first, Cameron Diaz is much like the character she’s played in so many other moviesflaky, funny and care-freebut by the end, we see a very different side of Maggie, as she actually starts to find a purpose in her grandmother’s retirement community. But really, this is Toni Collette’s film to ownyou may remember her as the mother from “The Sixth Sense.” Though she does carry on and cry a lot, she creates a strong character that any woman should be able to relate to in some way.
Of course, you expect MacLaine to be good, and she’s quite a sight for sore eyes when she shows up as Ella, because she brings some much needed new dynamics to a movie that is coming close to stalling. Her sassy nature offers a bit of conflict to quell Maggie’s carefree demeanor, and their relationship evolves over the course of the film. As we learn more about what happened to Maggie’s mother, we get to see another side of Ella, allowing for a few great scenes that will stick with you thanks to MacLaine’s performance.
This is a very rich film with characters so full of depth that it’s hard to convey the scope of the storytelling without a play-by-play synopsis. That’s not to say that this is all drama, since there’s plenty of opportunities for humor, even in the tensest of situations, and that’s often what makes the film enjoyable. That said, there are aspects to the story that work on many levels and parts that just seem like they’re by-the-book (no pun intended). The film is also too long and could definitely use some editing, taking out some of the unnecessary scenes in order to get to the actual story a bit faster.
The Bottom Line:
By no means perfect, this film is often funny and moving, an inspirational story that is so well written and acted that to disregard it as just another “chick flick” would be doing it a great disservice.