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On the Scene: Paging Jennifer Weiner!

October 6, 2005
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Jennifer Weiner
Who wouldn't want to be in her shoes these days?

With the release tomorrow of "In Her Shoes," the Cameron Diaz-Toni Collette-Shirley MacLaine starrer based on her best-selling book, and the recent publication of Goodnight Nobody - well, nobody does it better than Philadelphia's Jennifer Weiner when it comes to making book on pink-lady literature.

Ouch! That hurts as much as a pair of Manolo Blahniks pressing against the bone.

Because it's unfair. Writing about the ladies who lunch launched her literary career, but the full-figured Weiner figures that the Jewish maids and maideles who get menschen-ed in her books are the real people who readers can identify with, rather than the heirheads who make all the Hollywood headlines.

And she's right: Her first novel - written in 1999, while Weiner wrote a column for The Philadelphia Inquirer - Good in Bed was a good bet for those whose bedtime reading was the label of Godiva ingredients, and whose reconciliation with boyfriends Ben & Jerry wasn't necessarily such a good thing.

Weiner wrote from the heart, and women who have "been there, done that" did what any author would like; they gobbled up her books, as they just did jamming her recent signings of Goodnight Everybody in King of Prussia, where she was queen of the quills.

And "In Her Shoes," in which Diaz plays a Jimmy Choo-Choo of a train wreck at odds with her brainier, less busty non-babe of a sister (Colette), Weiner weans her detractors from stupid stereotypical conceits. In a twist on the old "Is it good for the Jews?" line of questioning, Weiner asks, "Is it good for the 'Shoes'?"

Answer: It's good for everybody.

"In Her Shoes" walks a mile to keep ahead of the fall-film friendly-fire out there competing for marquee dominance. As with Weiner's first novel, Shoes - and its screen mate - is set in Philadelphia; it is the author's cinematic soul sister. A native of Simsbury, Conn., and now proudly connected to Philadelphia, Weiner concedes that her size and shape more often than not made her feel a step out of synch with her fellow students. As for those other teens with whom she toured Israel ("There were five girls named Jennifer. Of course, I became the 'fat one,' " she told People), if only they could see her now.

But Weiner hasn't let fame and fortune fill her with pretense and give her a big head. Indeed, the amiable, charmingly chatty Weiner, married to local attorney Adam Bonin five years ago this month, has a bone to pick with the clock: Not enough time. "It's coming along," she says of Nanapalooza, the 90th birthday party she's planning for her Bubbie, who "also was my date for the film premiere in Los Angeles."

The shoe's on the other foot; Weiner has been playing party girl herself, most recently feted at the invitation-only screening presented here by the Greater Philadelphia Film Office for "In Her Shoes."

In her pocketbook? Bars of Goldenberg's Peanut Chews.

But Weiner is wise enough to suggest another accoutrement that audiences bring along when the film opens in Philadelphia on Friday, Oct. 7: "Bring lots of tissues," she says with a joyous laugh.

Good advice from the Good in Bed author, whose novel idea of Little Earthquakes had its own seismic selling points when it debuted last year.

But if there's a frisson of frenzy these days, it has nothing to do with any fears Weiner may have of not topping herself. After all, what could be paramount to raising a child?

"I'm having a ball," says Weiner, even though these are somewhat "stressful" times. "Any time you have a 2-year-old, it's complicated," she kibitzes of Lucy, her adorable little peanut.

She loves Lucy; and motherhood was an apple-pie-in-the-sky theme of Little Earthquakes.

She also loves her adopted city, a co-star of "In Her Shoes," shot on the not-so-mean streets of Philadelphia and the sunshine-soaked senior playground of Delray Beach, Fla. "It's as if they reached into my head and scooped out memories and stories, and there they are - Philadelphia, Rittenhouse Square - on the screen."

If her books are accessible to readers, the City of Sisterly Love is accessible to the star writer, whose "Under Cover" column for the Inquirer uncovered the trials and tribulations of her (at that time) boyfriend frenzy.

But has Weiner gone Hollywood? Heel no; they haven't invented sneaks fast enough to carry the In Her Shoes author away.

"The city has great food, museums - I feel so at home here. My favorite little coffee shop was featured in the film," she says of her caffeinated commitment.

One of Weiner's writing features is the Jewish accent she puts on so many of her characters. Her protagonist in Goodnight Nobody? Kate Klein. The alter-ego of a "plus-size pop-culture journalist" in Good in Bed? Cannie Shapiro. And who wouldn't vote for the retired but far-from-retiring widowed Mrs. Lefkowitz of In Her Shoes to be crowned Ms. Global Latke?

"Being Jewish feels very natural to me," says Weiner, who "was raised observant in an area where there weren't many Jewish kids."

Her story is not about Payless shoes; it's about payback time. "It feels very natural to give readers that part of my history" through the stories she tells.

And being Jewish adds character to her characters: "Being Jewish puts you on the outside - and I don't mean that in a negative way. But you're almost always in a minority, and when you are, it makes you observant of others and how you may fit in."

'Sure, It's Fun'
In a way, she is a minority twicetold: Weiner is of that rare breed whose books make the best-seller list and then make the Hollywood production schedule.

And they're actually made: Expecting a Star of David on the Hollywood sidewalk soon? "I don't want to be a movie star," she chuckles. "I have to be nice to everyone."

Nice work, if you can get it, and Weiner has - with Hollywood help from her dealmaker brother, Jake, a big deal of a producer himself ("A History of Violence").

"Sure, it's fun," she says of being associated with a major feature film. "You get dressed up, meet stars," and, maybe, sniff them, too.

As reported in People, first thing she did when getting a hug from Diaz was to … sniff her. (Smell the Rose? No, Diaz plays Maggie; Collette portrays Rose.) Verdict? No "Mask" needed: Diaz smells great, reports Weiner.

But preparing for all the Hollywood hoopla now, Weiner has been involved in a stink of sorts. Call it flapping of the gums over the chick-lit snit: She recently got into it with author Curtis Sittenfeld (Prep), whose review of Melissa Bank's The Wonder Spot stained and stung the chick-lit movement.

It all hatched a literary Hatfield and McCoy dust-cover dust-up in which Weiner, who praised Spot in her own review, responded ruefully about critics who don't think "serious" writing and chick-lit can be on the same page.

The snub snowballs, says the Princeton grad, when men who write their own "You've got male" adventures are not categorized differently as other authors of their gender.

But then, Weiner whines not; she doesn't see chick-lit as egg on the face. Certainly, it doesn't cramp her great sense of humor. In fact, she says of Goodnight Nobody, no one is left out in the cold.

Pointedly, she says, "It's enough of a suburban satire that I can say to men, 'Don't worry, you can read it and you won't have to be afraid of getting a period.' "

The last word for broadening her female base? Maybe. But suspense novels are not estrogen-exclusive. And one detects a certain love of mystery in Kate Klein, playing detective in her suburban Connecticut village. "Murder, She Kvetched" with Klein as a Jewish Jessica Fletcher?

"Yes - but younger and with more laundry to deal with," quips Weiner.

Talk about your dirty laundry. "It killed me when the show came out," says Weiner with mock hurt of "Desperate Housewives," which travels down Wysteria Lane in its own set of shoes.

Disparate housewives? Certainly, and Weiner's were there making mischief and mayhem way before Mike Delfino ever decided to investigate his neighbors' plumbing (to the ratings relief of ABC).

Weiner has her own network of neighbors; her Web site (www. jenniferweiner.com) is hit on more often than Diaz' character in "In Her Shoes."

And with the movie set to open nationwide, Weiner - whose Little Earthquakes shook Hollywood out of its doldrums enough to net her another film deal, this one with Universal - looks forward to when the Hollywood sign points her back to everyday life in Philadelphia.

"I'll be happy when it's over," she says of the current hoopla. "And then I can get back to just pushing the stroller."

While wearing, of course, a comfortable pair of shoes.

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