I keep hearing concern that it is grossly inappropriate and perhaps even irresponsible to release a movie with a title like Confessions of a Shopaholic during the current economic downturn. I didn't find that to be an issue. My concern is that during an economic crisis, I want far more escapist fare than this adaptation of Sophie Kinsella's novel, which is far too lame and annoying to make me forget about my own little fiscal crises.
The biggest problem with Confessions of a Shopaholic is that the main character, Rebecca Bloomwood (Isla Fisher), is even dumber than the store mannequins she imagines are beckoning her to buy things she can't afford. I nearly stopped reading the book mid-Chapter 2 because I wanted to smack Rebecca for her unbelievable cluelessness. Rebecca is just as flaky in the movie, and worse yet, never reaches even the tiny level of self-awareness of her counterpart in the book. Maybe the point is that you can feel happily superior to her, but I don't find that especially enjoyable. Rebecca is a journalist who makes Bridget Jones look like Rachel Maddow. At the movie's start, she writes for a dull gardening magazine, but really wants to work for a fashion magazine like the all-desirable Alette. She prepares for this only by racking up thousands in credit-card debt on scarves and gloves and whatever else catches her eye. She somehow manages to land a job at the financial magazine Successful Saving, with the idea that she can climb the corporate ladder and end up at Alette. The editor-in-chief at Successful Saving is the attractive Tom Luke Brandon (Hugh Dancy), and the minute you hear his British accent you can guess how this will all end.
In adapting Kinsella's novel, the setting has changed from London to New York, and the plot Americanized -- except for the characters' names, oddly enough. The screenwriters also added a wedding, because I think that's mandated for films directed by P.J. Hogan (Muriel's Wedding, My Best Friend's Wedding). Some of the most sitcom-y humor from the book unfortunately ended up in the film -- for example, when a character lies about being able to speak another language, we just know he/she will end up facing someone who is fluent in that language. At least the payoff in the movie is better than the book.
I don't mind that elements of the plot are unbelievable in a fairy-tale way. That's standard for romantic comedies, and we've learned to suspend our belief so it doesn't bother us when characters live beyond their means in fancy apartments, and the heads of major corporations take notice of a single scrappy columnist. But the characters are so shallow and poorly drawn that it's hard to care very much about what happens to them, and the movie therefore drags in any scene involving relationships. Fisher is cute as Rebecca, but her facial expressions frequently contort themselves in bizarre, out-of-control ways. And when did someone decide that "clumsy" equals "romantic comedy heroine"? Dancy has little to do other than look and act like a cut-rate Colin Firth.
The movie obviously went over its credit limit on supporting actor talent: John Goodman and Joan Cusack as Rebecca's parents; John Lithgow as a media mogul; Kristin Scott Thomas as fashion maven Alette; and Lynn Redgrave in a scene where you'll miss her if you blink. All these fine actors never get enough to do. Wendie Malick has two delightful scenes in which she's channeling Auntie Mame's evil twin, and Julie Hagerty pops up as an assistant at Successful Saving. I feel like there's a fiscal lesson here about spending your money on talent that's never used to its full potential. It would have been even more prudent to cut some of those roles entirely, because Confessions of a Shopaholic is 1 hour and 52 minutes long, far too lengthy for a fluffy romantic comedy.
Even the luxurious items in this film aren't eye-popping and lovely to admire. Rebecca's outfits looked terrible to me: a yellow plaid cape, a purple dress that may have been one of Prince's shirts, something unspeakable in yellow fake fur, hideous purses. And the pink. The level of pink in this movie makes Legally Blonde look monochromatic. Even Barbie would think it's overkill. I kept wishing I could have watched this movie with the Go Fug Yourself writers to hear what they'd say about the fashion.
Confessions of a Shopaholic tries to have it all: a connection with a best-seller, the consumerist porn of Sex in the City, the romance of Bridget Jones's Diary, and the ditz-makes-good fairy tale of Legally Blonde. Unfortunately, it's never as good as the movies it tries to imitate. I had the urge afterwards to go watch a real Depression-era comedy afterwards -- perhaps Easy Living, where the fur coat magically falls on Jean Arthur's head, or Trouble in Paradise, where the fashionable rich are all pickings for two very elegant thieves. Now that's successful escapism at its finest.