Tuesday, January 03, 2006 posted by Jen at 1/03/2006 10:08:00 PM
IN HER SHOES, the movie, has shown up on a number of year-end best-of lists, from Seattle to Denver to Entertainment Weekly – a wonderful treat, given how relentlessly EW chronicled the film’s box office performance.
There’s been so much written about Hollywood’s worse-than-expected year in general, the trouble with adult dramas and quote-unquote chick flicks specifically, and IN HER SHOES itself. I don’t know if I’ve got anything particularly intelligent or non-sour-grape-flavored to add about why a smart, funny, moving, well-written, wonderfully acted movie got its ass kicked by The Pacifier, House of Wax, and Bewitched.
Yes, going to the movies these days is often more of a hassle than a pleasure. Everybody’s busy. Gas is expensive and sitters are, too. DVDs and Netflix and cable on demand have changed the way we receive our entertainments. Teenagers dominate the filmgoing market, and movies that appeal to a seventeen year old boy’s sensibility rise to the top of the pack, and a movie without major male characters or a plot that swung on a romance was always going to be a hard sell.
But beyond that, I think of something that Thomas Harris wrote in HANNIBAL, talking about an exhibit on instruments of torture that Hannibal Lecter frequented. In our depraved and jaded world, he asks, “what still slaps the clammy flab of our submissive consciousness hard enough to get our attention?”
It’s a tongue-in-cheek question in a book about a guy who, after all, snacks on his fellow man’s cerebellum, but I think Harris had it right particularly when you look at this year’s box office successes. It wasn’t enough to make a well-crafted, beautifully written, wonderfully acted, heartwarming, uplifting drama. If that was true, CINDERELLA MAN would have made a hundred million dollars, and IN HER SHOES, although cursed with a surplus of estrogen and all of the built-in dismissiveness that comes free with the label “chick flick” along with it, might not have been far behind.
But these days, to actually get butts in seats, you need sex or violence, or violent sex (or violent, furtive gay sex, a la BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN). You need raunchy humor, a shocking surprise ending, a real-life singer’s addiction portrayed by an actor who developed a real-life addiction. You need a whiff of scandal – Jessica Simpson, pre-divorce; Tom Cruise, post-couch, Brangelina. You at least need romance. Or, barring that, an animated chicken, or a pubescent wizard (believe me, I spent a lot of time kicking myself for not having included either in the novel).
A film about relationships between women, not women and men, that featured not much sex, very little violence, no drug use, no dismemberment and not much to slap the clammy flab, didn’t have much of a chance. At least not in theaters, in the USA (although, if I can say this without sounding too David Hasselhoff, IN HER SHOES is doing very well overseas).
I’m sorry that the film didn’t do better at the box office, and I had a rough few weekends in October where I wanted to camp out at my local multiplex and pull people out of SAW II, saying, “No, don’t see that, see this!”
Beyond being disappointed, I’m also worried about what it means for the kind of movies that will be made in its wake. Will studio executives read books that are essentially women’s stories and say, “Forget it?” Or, “We’ll make it if we can beef up the romance?” Or throw in a car chase? Or a stripper? Or turn the senior citizens into punch lines, or just get rid of them altogether, and make all of the characters stereotypic Hollywood beauties?
And then throw in an animated chicken?
Anyhow. In the world of worst-case scenarios, I think the real heartbreak would have been a movie that wasn’t made well as opposed to one that didn’t do well. After all, a movie that didn’t do well in theaters can always find new life on DVD, but if your book gets turned into SHINING THROUGH or SIMON BIRCH, you’re pretty much stuck with that forever.
I love what Susannah Grant and Curtis Hanson and Cameron Diaz and Toni Collette and Shirley MacLaine did with the story I wrote. The writing's sharp, the relationships feel real, Philadelphia looks great, and the actresses all were amazing. “In Her Shoes” comes out on DVD on January 31, and I hope it has a long and happy life and finds the audience it deserves.
Welcome to A Moment of Jen, author Jennifer Weiner's constantly-updated take on books, baby, and news of the world. Email me at jen (a) jenniferweiner.com.