When the director Curtis Hanson announced that his next project would be an adaptation of the Philadelphia-set In Her Shoes, the novel by former Inquirer staff writer Jennifer Weiner, critics were confused. "They said 'Why would a director like Curtis Hanson lower himself to this girlie fluff?' " Weiner said.
But Hanson, who died Tuesday at 71, didn't look down on Weiner's work. Instead, he saw her second novel as "as about relationships and love, and he never saw it as something lesser because it was about women," Weiner said in a phone call.
In Her Shoes is about the strained relationship between two very different sisters -- free-spirited Maggie (Cameron Diaz) and the shy, bookish Rose (Toni Collette) -- who share a shoe size and little else. Their relationship dissolves when Maggie sleeps with Rose's boyfriend, leading Maggie on a sojourn to Florida to meet her grandmother (Shirley MacLaine), while Rose finds confidence in herself after blowing up her professional life.
"[Hanson] made choices -- he could have played down the certain aspects, like the older people. He came to shoot in Philadelphia -- it wasn't Vancouver with a Styrofoam Liberty Bell," Weiner said. "He kept the Jewish aspect, which pleased me. He wanted to tell the story with all of its specificity."
Curtis shot In Her Shoes in Philadelphia in 2004, famously taking over the Jamaican Jerk Hut (1436 South St.) for a wedding scene between Collette's Rose and Mark Feuerstein's Simon.
Hanson told Howard Gensler when the movie came out in 2005:
"In the process of [scouting locations] at the Jamaican Jerk Hut and wandering around there ... and imagining it as the location for the date of Simon and Rose, I started thinking that it could be more than that ...
"So we proposed this to the Jerk Hut and they were taken aback because we were taking over the whole place, but we love them - [owner] Nicola [Shirley] and her family and the people who work there. They prepared the food for the crew and also the food that's on camera. ... And then we all ate it at the end of the day's shooting. ... It was beyond good.
"Philadelphia is so special in its uniqueness and it has also been under-represented in movies so there's a freshness to it. "
Weiner said that Hanson, who won an Academy Award for his adapted screenplay of L.A. Confidential, respected her as a writer. That respect extended to another great film about writing: The Pittsburgh-set Wonder Boys, based on a novel by Michael Chabon.
"He listened. We had dinner at Barclay Prime. He was scouting locations at that point. He asked what it was like to live here, and what the people were like and the Mummers were. He was this big-shot director and I was this young woman who had written a book and I couldn't believe this was happening."
She said she didn't know if In Her Shoes would even get made, and if it did, what shape it would be in. "You might have to spend the rest of your career saying 'That was one version of the story.' There's so many stories about Hollywood taking a beloved book and turning it into something we don't recognize anymore. But I feel so lucky because he treated the characters and the book with such respect."
Weiner said that fans for years have been asking about which one of her books will get a big screen adaptation next. Recently a deal was reached to turn her children's book, The Littlest Bigfoot, in a movie. But Weiner says if In Her Shoes was her last movie, "that would be totally fine, because I can't imagine a better ride than this."