British and Australian talent, both in front and behind the cameras, is in charge of the new chic flick, the whimsical and frivolous comedy “Confessions of a Shopaholic,” which is out of synch with the zeitgeist.
Aussie P. J. Hogan (“My Best Friend’s Wedding”) directs from a screenplay by Tracey Jackson, Tim Firth and Kayla Alpert, based on two Sophie Kinsella's books, “Confessions of a Shopaholic” and “Shopaholic Takes Manhattan,” which were best-sellers in the U.K. and many other countries.
Each of Kinsella's five books has made best-seller lists; at one point, she had three books on the Washington Post’s top-ten lists. The book's original setting and the protagonist's nationality have been changed for commercial reasons, to accommodate larger American audiences, though it must be said, that the second book was set in Manhattan.
A whimsical film about the fables and foibles of a spirited girl who's obsessive about shopping may be the wrong film at the wrong time. You cannot disregard the fact that this comedy about consumerism and materialistic possessions comes out in times of grim economy, escalating unemployment rates, growing debts, and low personal and collective morale. In other words, in spirit, “Confessions of a Shopaholic” belongs in another era.
Rebecca (call me Becky) Bloomwood, a bright, fun-loving girl who excels at shopping, dreams of working for her favorite fashion magazine but can’t get a job there. Things change when she becomes a columnist for a financial magazine called Successful Saving, published by the same company. As her dreams begin to come true, Becky must go to extreme efforts to keep her past from ruining her future.
The problem with most narratives about transformation and redemption is that they are always more interesting and fun to watch before the heroine begins to change and to absorb some moralistic lessons.
Aussie Isla Fisher, who made strong impression in supporting roles in “Wedding Crashers” and “Definitely, Maybe” is a perky, vivacious and charming comedienne who is adept at both physical and verbal humor, and it's nice to see her as the star of her own picture. Fisher is the kind of actress who can smoothly navigate contradictory moods: She is by turns endearing and irritating, hapless and resourceful, optimistic and pessimistic.
It's the romantic aspects of the tale that don’t work, but not because of lack of chemistry between Fisher and Hugh Dancy (“Ella Enchanted,” “King Arthur”), who plays Rebecca’s editor and object of her desire; they are too familiar and predictable.
In this film, Becky is a woman who's at once a product and a victim of pop culture and conspicuous consumption, addicted to retail therapy, whose motto is: If you feel bad about yourself and your life, just go into a chic store on Fifth Avenue and you'll immediately cheer up. Early on, Becky says: “A man will never love you as well as a store.”
The movie is based on the same philosophy and psychology that defined the Julia Roberts character in “Pretty Woman” (remember the Rodeo Drive shopping spree, and on a more sophisticated scale, Percy Adlon's 1989 “Rosalie Goes Shopping,” an off beat comedy starring Marianne Sagebrecht as an obsessive shopper who devises an ingenious plan to defeat her bill collectors.
You could of course say that “Confessions of a Shopaholic” is a cautionary tale of having too many credit cards and that ultimately the greedy banks are the villains, exploiting women's (and men's) weaknesses and vulnerabilities; in this story, Becky claims no less than 12 cards. But that would be stretching the point.
Director Hogan has shown deft, light touch in handling comedy in his two wedding pictures, “Muriel’s Wedding” and ‘My Best Friend’s Wedding.” Though ultimately defeated by a silly yarn, which relies on slapstick comedy, Hogan doesn't disappoint entirely, using a breezy pace for this catalogue of inane antics, such as two women fighting for the same bargain-price item.
A large ensemble, which boasts some of the best characters around, compensates up to a point for some of the film's shortcomings, and I wish they were given bigger roles to play. Time seems to have passed quickly and actors like Joan Cusack and John Goodman are now of the age of playing Rebecca's thrifty, very middle-class parents. Cusack, you may recall, was nominated twice for the Supporting Actress Oscar (for Mike Nichols 1988 “Working Girl” and for “In & Out” a decade later). The cast also includes John Lithgow, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Julie Hagerty as an administrative assistant.
As expected, production values are polished, courtesy of production designer Kristi Zea (“The Departed”) and particularly costume designer Patricia Field of “Sex and the City” and “The Devil Wears Prada” fame.
A Valentine's Day release, “Confessions of a Shopaholic” is mostly targeted at female viewers, but you'll have better time watching the romantic serio comedy, “He's Just Not That Into You,” which broke box-office records last weekend.
Rebecca Bloomwood – Isla Fisher
Luke Brandon – Hugh Dancy
Jane Bloomwood – Joan Cusack
Graham Bloomwood – John Goodman
Edgar West – John Lithgow
Alette Naylor – Kristin Scott Thomas
Alicia Billington – Leslie Bibb
Ryan Koenig – Fred Armisen
Hayley – Julie Hagerty
Suze – Krysten Ritter
Derek Smeath – Robert Stanton
TV Show Host – Christine Ebersole
Miss Ptaszinski – Clea Lewis
Miss Korch – Wendie Malick
Drunken Lady at Ball – Lynn Redgrave
A Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures release of a Touchstone Pictures and Jerry Bruckheimer Films presentation.
Produced by Bruckheimer.
Executive producers, Mike Stenson, Chad Oman, Ron Bozman.
Directed by P.J. Hogan.
Screenplay, Tracey Jackson, Tim Firth, Kayla Alpert, based on the books “Confessions of a Shopaholic” and “Shopaholic Takes Manhattan” by Sophie Kinsella.
Camera, Jo Willems.
Editor, William Goldenberg.
Music: James Newton Howard; music supervisor, Kathy Nelson; production designer, Kristi Zea; art directors, Paul D. Kelly, Rosa Palomo (Miami); set decorators, Alyssa Winter, Scott Jacobson (Miami); costume designer, Patricia Field; sound, Robert Eber, TJ O'Mara; supervising sound editor, George Watters II; supervising sound mixers, Jeffrey J. Haboush, Greg P. Russell; visual effects and animation, Industrial Light & Magic; ILM animation supervisor, Tim Harrington.
MPAA Rating: PG.
Running time: 103 Minutes.