Sole sisters: 'In Her Shoes' toes the line

Philadelphia becomes the City of Sisterly Love (not the Sapphic kind) in In Her Shoes, a refreshingly (or irritatingly, depending on your point of view) testosterone-free dramedy directed by Curtis Hanson but adapted by Susannah Grant from a novel by Jennifer Weiner.

The sisters in question are polar opposites Maggie (Cameron Diaz) and Rose Feller (Toni Collette). Rose is the responsible (but plain) one who works long hours at a law firm to avoid trying to have a life. She wears cotton briefs ("A thong would look ridiculous on me") and files legal briefs. Maggie is a semi-literate (but pretty), freeloading slut, to put it kindly. You've probably had someone like her sponge off you at some time in your life. They complete each other, as people say in movies like this.

Their stepmother (Candice Azzara) wants no part of them, so Rose is frequently forced to take Maggie in, even knowing Maggie will beg, borrow, and steal from her. When Maggie finally commits an unpardonable sin, Rose throws her out, and she goes to Florida to visit the grandmother whose existence she only recently learned about.

Ella (Shirley MacLaine), three years a widow, is the most active resident of a "retirement community for active seniors." She's been kept from the girls by their father (Ken Howard), whom she blamed for her daughter's death.

While Maggie is growing up and developing self-esteem in Florida, Rose is finding herself in Philadelphia. She takes a break from law to become a dog walker and finds romance with former co-worker Simon Stein (Mark Feuerstein).

That's about it for a plot, so the movie could have been a little tighter, but it's still the cinematic equivalent of a page-turner. "Real men" won't admit to liking it, of course, but if they make the effort, they'll find more to enjoy than Diaz' scanty wardrobe.

Besides skin, Diaz shows once again that, given a meaty role, she's able to do more than wiggle, jiggle, and giggle. Collette, who reportedly gained 25 pounds for the role but still doesn't look heavy, is back in the city of The Sixth Sense, again hiding her Australianness well. Her overall appearance is inconsistent, but her acting is as good as ever.

The latter is also true of MacLaine, who's marking 50 years in the movies with a slew of releases. This one affords her a better showcase than Bewitched.

One problem: While I endorse the concept of non-traditional casting, and they've certainly gotten the best possible actresses for the three leading roles, it can't be ignored that the characters are supposed to be Jewish, and therefore the women are as ill-suited as Melanie Griffith in A Stranger among Us. The three of them together couldn't order a sandwich in a deli.

It doesn't help that they're surrounded by the most obviously Jewish supporting cast since Fiddler on the Roof. It's okay to use stereotypes, non-stereotypes, or a mix, but it becomes insulting when the smaller the role, the more Jewish the actor. (You want maybe they should let Harvey Fierstein play Rose?)

Aside from that point, which will bother some more than others, In Her Shoes is a well-crafted, well-acted, feel-good movie that most women and a few good men will appreciate.