Confessions of a Shopaholic
Isla Fisher, Hugh Dancy, Joan Cusack, John Goodman, Kristin Scott Thomas
(Touchstone Pictures; US DVD: 23 Jun 2009; UK DVD: 23 Jun 2009)
What does it say about today’s modern woman that fashion has taken the place of feminism. Is the battle for equality and professional recognition really over when the more mature members of the gender flaunt their fading sexuality and call themselves “cougars”? Or what about the younger generation who views a sex tape as success or materialism as a Master’s Degree. Where did it all go wrong? When did Gloria Steinam turn into Carrie Bradshaw? These questions and many, many more instantly come to mind the minute you settle into Touchstone/Disney’s ditzy RomCom Confessions of a Shopaholic. Unfortunately, this feather light comedy fails to provide a single insight.
Based on Sophie Kinsella’s popular series, this particular story centers on Rebecca Bloomwood, a spoiled suburban drama queen who longs for the days when she can tear up the typeface as a member of Alette, the world’s biggest fashion rag. Named after its renowned owner, the magazine is the answer to all of Rebecca’s dreams - and the solution to a few nightmares as well. Deep in debt and continually piling up the financial obligations, she just can’t stop shopping. She shops instead of paying her rent. She stops instead of buying food. She shops instead of sleeping. Of course, with such an addiction comes a few minor annoyances - like a collection agent named Derek Smeath who has a tendency to stalk her like a lovelorn ex-boyfriend.
Naturally, Rebecca loses her job, and seeing it as her opportunity to win over potential employer Alette Naylor, she puts her best foot forward for the interview. Instead, she is rejected, and must settle for a gig working for humble British hunk Luke Brandon and his financial report Successful Saving. Rebecca seems lost at first, unable to grasp the complicated elements and intricate theories involved. But with her personal penury looming large, she applies her theories of shopping to the situation and - BINGO! - she’s a big fat industry smash. With Smeath hot on her name brand high heels, however, and Luke showing more than a passing interest, it’s going to take a miracle to get Rebecca’s life straightened out.
There’s a fine line between likeable and lightweight, a blurry border that Confessions of a Shopaholic crosses early and often. Unfortunately released near the apex of America’s current economic meltdown, the tale of a shallow city slicked stick figure who can’t understand the concept of fiscal moderation became more mean spirited then high spirited. Watching a person - fictional or not - fret over not having a $500 pair of shoes seemed self-consciously self-indulgent on the part of producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director PJ Hogan. While amiable actress Isla Fisher finds numerous ways to keep us forgiving and engaged, the cruel consumerist context drives a nail directly into our far more fidgety common sense.
Without a keen eye behind the lens, this would be unbearable. It would reek of the kind of wanton wish fulfillment that gets little girls to dream of white knights in shining armor instead of long nights studying for exams. This is the kind of flawed fairy tale that, through no real fault of its own, ushers in a misplaced mindset that sees success measured in dollar signs and designer outfits, not personal growth and individual actualization. Thanks to Hogan, whose resume includes the equally adept Muriel’s Wedding and a magical adaptation of Peter Pan, a pink candy patina is draped over this otherwise ill-conceived message. Without him in the director’s chair, we’d be mired in unbearable pro-Prada announcements.
And Fisher is fine as well, working both the physical and personality aspect of Rebecca in an energetic, endearing manner. Sure, the slapstick doesn’t succeed at all, but that’s not her fault. Few filmmakers working within the last 50 years understand the basics of a perfect pratfall. There are also Ms. Kinsella’s claims to consider. By moving the story to America (the original story is set in London) and amplifying the whimsy, what might have worked across the pond comes across as tired and trying as a third rate sitcom. Even the excellent supporting work of seasoned veterans like John Goodman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Hugh Dancy, John Lithgow, and Joan Cusak can’t completely salvage this silliness.
Yet for some odd reason, Confessions of a Shopaholic still manages to endear…kind of, sort of. The script does find an interesting way of explaining Rebecca’s obsession - that is when it’s not giving the character a series of whiny tantrums to trip over - and we grow to care for this otherwise one-dimensional gal. Since her struggles with money and mounting bills hit so close to home, there’s an inherent compassion for her clearly self-made traumas and since she’s true to herself (no matter how flawed that conceit really is) we rally around her desire to change. In fact, the best thing about this movie is that Rebecca never really relishes her obvious problem. The joy is momentary, as fleeting as the balance in her bank account.
Still, there is something intrinsically wrong about a narrative that tells its audience to value things over thoughts. Rebeeca eventually wins, not because she is smarter or more sensible than those around her. No, as in any good fable, she finds a man to defend her honor while lucking into a solution that more or less solves her problems. It’s a mangled message for sure, an adolescent’s daydream retrofitted for a time when such skylarking should be cast aside. As a mainstream entertainment trying to do little more than entertain and please, Confessions of a Shopaholic is fine. It proves that Isla Fisher and PJ Hogan can elevate even the lamest source material. But if you come here looking for something deeper, you’ll de disappointed. The only real point is one of “more”, not meaning.