February 13, 2009

Confessions of a Shopaholic

star

A movie review by James Berardinelli



Confessions of a Shopaholic

COMEDY:

United States, 2009

U.S. Release Date:

2009-02-13

Running Length:

1:50

MPAA Classification:

PG

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

1.85:1

Cast:

Isla Fisher, Hugh Dancy, Krysten Ritter, Joan Cusack, John Goodman, John Lithgow, Kristen Scott Thomas, Leslie Bibb, Fred Armisen

Director:

P.J. Hogan

Screenplay:

Tracey Jackson and Tim Firth and Kayla Alpert, based on the books Confessions of a Shopaholic and Shopaholic Takes Manhattan by Sophie Kinsella

Cinematography:

Jo Willems

Music:

James Newton Howard

U.S. Distributor:

Touchstone Pictures

Subtitles:

none


It has been a long time since I came as close to walking out of a movie as I did with Confessions of a Shopaholic. Not only did I find this production to be irritating, unfunny, and lacking in entertainment value, but I found its underlying slavishness to a culture of consumption to be morally repugnant. Some of this, I realize, is a matter of timing, but the distributor has itself to blame for that. What company in its right mind would release a movie like this - one that lauds brand names and profligate spending - in a time when so many people are really hurting? Are the expressions of excess displayed in this movie a means of escape or an instrument to salt the wounds of some who spent hard-earned dollars to see this?

My hatred of this movie runs true and deep. It's not a harmless fairy tale or a carefree screwball comedy. It's a bold and shameless expression of a warped and rotted "me first" culture in which people spend beyond their means then turn around and call themselves victims. Who is the villain in this movie? A debt collector, not the thoughtless bimbo who we're supposed to be rooting for. I'm sure there will be audience members who identify with Isla Fisher's bubble-brained Rebecca Bloomwood. They won't see her as a symptom of a societal disease. For my part, I found her to be entirely unsympathetic and having to spend nearly two hours watching her misadventures is a torturous experience. Many scenes take place on New York City sidewalks. On each occasion, I could not contain the never-to-be-realized hope that a runaway taxi would take her out.

Some will doubtless argue that I'm taking the movie too seriously. It is, after all, intended to be a comedy with a side dish of romance. Besides, isn't the point that Rebecca is redeemed by paying off her debts, re-connecting with her parents, and turning her back on her shopaholic ways? The problem is that the movie, with its broad, clumsy humor, doesn't have a pratfall, sight gag, or double entendre worth a feeble chuckle and the romance is flat. As for Rebecca's redemption - it's not hard-won. The "consequences" she faces are obscenely minor. She doesn't lose her home or face the humiliation of standing in a line to get unemployment benefits. And the movie continues to name-drop Prada, Gucci, and others as if they represent the Holy Grail of purchasing power. That, I suppose, is the purchasing power of product placement. It's almost scary that the filmmakers don't see the hypocrisy, and almost as frightening that many in the audience will dismiss it.

On a high level, Confessions of a Shopaholic is trying to fuse The Devil Wears Prada with Legally Blonde, but it lacks the darkly satirical edge of the former and the frothy innocence of the latter. It's a misbegotten offspring that sticks to the bottom of the shoe with the tenacity and stench of a dog turd. I expected more from P.J. Hogan, whose previous features include the heartfelt Muriel's Wedding and the delicious My Best Friend's Wedding. The fact that this movie is based on a pair of books may be an excuse, but it's not a good one.

Rebecca Bloomwood, a journalist at a failing magazine, is obsessed with buying clothing. Wearing it is a secondary concern. It's the process of shopping that provides her with orgasmic shivers. When her interview to write for a fashion magazine fails and her current job is downsized into nothing, she finds herself without a means to pay off her mounting credit card bills. Through a series of coincidences and contrivances too absurd to describe (involving a hot dog, a few drinks too many, and pink envelopes), she manages to gain employment writing for a personal savings magazine, where her "down to Earth" columns are an instant success. They bring her fame but not fortune, and she hides the truth about her personal debt issues from her editor, Luke Brandon (Hugh Dancy), who believes that, in Rebecca, he has found the voice who will reverse the downward spiral of the magazine's circulation numbers.

In addition to providing viewers with this heroic tale of Rebecca's struggles against the lure of Madison Avenue, Confessions of a Shopaholic tosses the crumbs of a love story to the romantic comedy crowd. Unfortunately, this is the latest example of two mismatched actors being forced together despite the lack of chemistry. And it's not that Isla Fisher can't do rom-coms - she was adorable in Definitely, Maybe - but that she and Hugh Dancy couldn't start a fire with matches, bone-dry tinder, and an accelerant. And, while Luke starts out the film as a likeable man, we gradually lose respect for him as his unwarranted esteem for Rebecca grows.

Confessions of a Shopaholic takes time out to poke fun at addiction recovery groups, but not in a way that's clever or incisive. I'd be the first to acknowledge that there's room for parody here, but this approach is lazy. Like just about every other aspect of this movie, it's badly done About the only positive thing I can say about the film is that the actors mostly do competent jobs, although Fisher occasionally oversells the bubbly nature of her character and Kristen Scott Thomas appears to be aping Meryl Streep from The Devil Wears Prada. Here's 2009's first contender for placement on the Bottom 10 list.

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