Last night we went to see In Her Shoes which proved to be a rarity out of Hollywood these days — an emotionally intelligent film about relationships, in this case between two sisters damaged during childhood by a mentally-unstable mother whose suicide was followed by their father’s marriage to a woman who turned out to be the ghastliest of stepmothers. The elder sister, Rose (Toni Collette), is a buttoned-up, work-obsessed lawyer, while younger, prettier Maggie (Cameron Diaz) is a hopeless case who drinks and flirts, can’t hold down a job and depends on Rose to rescue her from endless scrapes.
One night of thoughtless betrayal causes Rose to throw her out and Maggie ends up staying with her long-lost grandmother (Shirley Maclaine) in a Florida retirement village. In this unlikely place, she finds herself and her redemption.
I won’t give anything more away except to come to my point, which is that one of the pivotal episodes in the story is when a blind, bedridden retired professor asks her to read to him. At first she’s afraid, describing herself as a “slow reader”, but the old man gently persuades her to read him the poem One Art by Elizabeth Bishop which is about living with loss. Then he encourages her to talk about it. She finds this a transforming experience, and the delight on her face as she trots round the supermarket afterward is something to behold. We know she’s a changed person from that moment.
I’d like to think that she gets more out of the poem for discovering, as I did when I looked it up, that the poet also had a mentally-ill mother. The film doesn’t say so, but perhaps it’s in the novel on which it’s based.
Ah — the power of reading!