A deep, translucent compassion lurks in the e.e. cummings heart of Curtis Hanson’s movie about damaged, insecure sisters. Though that compassion isn’t fully realized, tipped into the maudlin, there’s a great deal to be said for the maturing charm of the story. Philadelphia lawyer Rose (Toni Collette) and sister Maggie (Cameron Diaz) share little but Jewish blood: Rose is Ugly Duckling clunky, Maggie a dyslexic nymphomaniac who can’t hold down a job. Both look for self-esteem in all the wrong places.
A blowup over a lover sends Maggie to a retirement home Florida to seek out her grandmother Ella (Shirley MacClaine, elegant as ever) who helps direct her toward adultness. Meanwhile, Rose walks away from law and into an engagement. Hanson too often fills in his own blanks, leaving little to chance, but that doesn’t stop Diaz and Colette, both underrated in different ways, from taking novelist Jennifer Weiner’s sisterly material to whole heart. Scenes in which Maggie haltingly reads Elizabeth Bishop poems to a aging blind professor have every reason to succumb to cheap-trick sentimentalism: they don’t. “Without her,” Rose says of Maggie, “ I don’t make sense.” Hanson’s giving movie makes a lot of it.