Sisters Rose (Collette) and Maggie Feller (Diaz) couldn’t be more different. Rose is a shy city lawyer; Maggie a gorgeous, good-time gal hopping from bed to bed, job to job. When Maggie betrays Rose’s trust, the siblings part company — only to find each other again (and themselves) via a grandmother they thought was dead (MacLaine).
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Yet Hanson has never shied away from surprises, and to dismiss his earlier work as boys’ stuff is to ignore the sensitivity to universal human quirks and weaknesses that is present in many of his films.
And so to this — a simple tale of sibling rivalry and inter-familial heartbreak and secrets. The central characters could have been gross stereotypes, Rose (Collette) the frumpy but clever girl who loves shoes because at least they’ll always fit; Maggie (Diaz) the va-va-voom blonde flitting from one man to the next and filching said shoes because at least she has occasions on which to wear them. Yet Weiner is blessed with the talent to create compelling, very real people from the dullest of clichés, something she shares with screenwriter Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich) and Hanson himself, his male perspective bringing grittier notes to a story arc that could (and occasionally does) veer dangerously close to unabashed schmaltz.
They are helped in no small measure by Collette and Diaz, the former giving a typically intelligent, understated performance, while the latter finds hidden depths in a character who could easily have remained an unpleasant, one-dimensional brat. After Maggie commits an act of unspeakably hurtful betrayal and the sisters separate, Hanson pointedly splits the action between Rose’s slate-grey, icy Philadelphia cityscape and Maggie’s candy-coloured Florida bolthole, all palm trees and sunshine. But sunshine casts shadows, and it’s in these scenes that Maggie faces up to her insecurities, loneliness and selfishness, giving the film its breadth and humanity.
Taking his time over 130 minutes, Hanson isn’t afraid to pay tribute to the significance of human emotions, however apparently small, and the subtleties of evolving, maturing relationships. As such, while on the surface very much a girls’ film, this ruefully honest picture has something to say to everyone.
A simple yet rich drama played with humour and compassion and blessed with excellent performances.
Reviewed by Liz Beardsworth