We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.

If for no other reason, admire In Her Shoes for this: Perhaps for the first time in a gooey family film, the introduction of a grandma actually improves the story. Shirley MacLaine plays Ella, the grandmother who grown sisters Maggie (Cameron Diaz) and Rose (Toni Collette) never knew was still alive. For the first half of Curtis Hanson’s film (adapted by Erin Brockovich scribe Susannah Grant from Jennifer Weiner’s bestselling novel), the focus is on the two only-in-fiction siblings, who are such opposites that they seem to have been born to different families. Rose, a little tubby, a little plain, is a lawyer who does everything right. Maggie, a lot thin, a lot gorgeous, is a perpetually unemployed party girl who, naturally, does everything wrong. Maggie moves in with Rose; they clash, eventually so badly that Maggie heads down to Florida to find Ella, evidence of whose existence she discovers while snooping in her dad’s desk for cash. In Her Shoes becomes less clichéd once Ella enters the picture, with the story morphing from the tired-if-charged fighting-sisters plot into a more intricate one involving the girls’ dead mother and their father’s complicated relationship with Ella. Even Maggie is allowed to be more than just a wild child, and Diaz does a surprisingly competent job of garnering a little sympathy for a character who’s hitherto been a contemptible brat. Less believable, or even necessary—really, how many members of a family undergo massive life changes at once?—is Rose’s transformation, though Collette, as always, gives a solid performance. MacLaine, however, is the star here, a powerful but never overwhelming presence whether Ella is proving herself sharper than anyone in her retirement community or stronger than Maggie’s scorn. Ella’s developing bond with her adrift grandchild is the most interesting part of In Her Shoes’ story, but not quite interesting enough to justify its 130-minute unfolding. Though the movie is never quite boring, it’s never terribly funny or touching or sad, either—even when everything starts falling into place as neatly as the passed-around shoes that fit all the women in the family. If you really want to shed a tear over Grandma MacLaine, you’re better off waiting for Terms of Endearment to hit AMC.—Tricia Olszewski