Confessions of a Shopaholic
Shop till you drop: Isla Fisher shines in dressed-up screwball comedy
There's something vaguely tragic about a movie whose women (and a few men) are, by and large, strung out on buying designer stuff they can't afford. Maybe in a different economy that movie would seem less sobering. In this one, watching people shop madly seems a little sinister.
"Confessions of a Shopaholic" carries an odd sort of relevance for this contradictory financial moment: It's spending, in part, that got us into trouble, but it's spending that will also get us out? This movie has no light to shed on the matter. It is its own contradiction: a film about confessions in which nothing much is confessed.
The tale of Rebecca Bloomwood (Isla Fisher) and her battles to curtail an addiction to clothes that leaves her violent, orgasmic, and $16,000 in the hole makes for an occasionally dumb movie. She walks into glass doors and drops trays of food.
The demand for slapstick is ultimately so high it compromises Rebecca's common sense. Would a fashionista really use a Christian Louboutin shoe as an ice pick? Why would she yank a thread from a bolero jacket that would leave it in tatters? Fantasy here usually comes at reality's expense.
Still, her downward spiral into support groups and running from a particularly relentless debt collector feels a little like the world's downward spiral. If only the rest of us had a screenplay as determined to save us from bottoming out.
Adapted by Tracey Jackson, Tim Firth, and Kayla Alpert from two of Sophie Kinsella's popular "Shopaholic" novels, "Confessions of a Shopaholic" makes salvation from sudden unemployment and being in the red look depressingly easy, particularly from a journalist's perch. When Rebecca's Manhattan-based gardening magazine goes under, she applies for a job at her favorite fashion glossy - Allette - but deigns to accept a gig writing a column for the "People magazine of financial journalism."
Only because Fisher has as a spark of intelligence does it seems as if Rebecca is capable of writing anything longer than her signature. She plagiarizes her first submitted story. She trolls Google for help with a second crack. But somehow her enthusiastic young editor, an Englishman played by Hugh Dancy, sees Something. Write about money in a way that everyone can understand, he instructs, and a magazine sensation is born. Fisher's red hair notwithstanding, this is "Journalistically Blonde."
Even if it's not as surprisingly smart as Reese Witherspoon's 'Blonde' comedy (we need to read or hear Rebecca's column and don't), "Confessions of a Shopaholic" has been made in an entertaining hurry. Jerry Bruckheimer produced it, but P.J. Hogan directs in his own zooming, breathless cartoon style that takes a few scenes to settle into a useful rhythm. He applies the same indiscriminately vibrant eye he used on "Muriel's Wedding" and "My Best Friend's Wedding" - somebody gets married here, too - so that there's no attempt at visual restraint. More than any of his previous films, this one looks like a sack of Pedro Almodovar movies exploded in every scene. But the conflation of gaudiness, lewdness, flamboyance, and obnoxiousness feels like something that should be canned and sold as an energy drink. An Australian, Hogan has a similar overcaffeinated approach to moviemaking as his countryman Baz Luhrmann. Hogan is Luhrmann without the top hat and tails.
Once Dancy shows up, a kind of screwball comedy emerges from all the confetti, taffeta, and nonsense. Fisher wraps her zaniness around him like a python, but when she squeezes he doesn't break. His mild suaveness gets sharper. They're good together, reversing a dismal trend in recent romantic comedy where the woman plays the straight man. Fisher performs some bad, pricelessly suggestive salsa moves with a hand fan that you won't see on "Dancing With the Stars" any time soon. Dancy does his best to keep himself composed. If only he were playing an interesting person. He's the one actor who doesn't seem to be enjoying himself as much as everybody else.
Fisher, you might recall, was the find of "Wedding Crashers" (she played the slutty sister). She's a good comedian. Ridiculously, Joan Cusack has been cast as her mother in "Confessions of a Shopaholic" (they're a dozen years apart). Nice try, but Fisher's breathy, fake-dingbat stylings (she's an Australian playing American) suggest that her true comedic mother is Julie Hagerty, who actually plays Dancy's personal assistant.
Since the movie seems like such an extra-chaotic episode of "Ugly Betty," I'm reluctant to mention George Cukor, Preston Sturges, or even Frank Capra, but at the very least Hogan, whose movies are girlier and gayer, has snacked on the pace of their work as well any number of Technicolor romantic musicals from the 1950s. That's the one thing not in this movie: a production number - although some of Patricia Field's tackier costumes certainly sing.
There are talking mannequins, a well-deployed Muzak version of Amy Winehouse's "Rehab," and a great big cast - Cusack, Hagerty, John Lithgow, Kristin Scott Thomas, John Goodman, Wendie Malick, Clea Lewis, Fred Armisen, the NBA's John Salley, and, briefly and weirdly, Lynn Redgrave credited as "Drunken Lady at Ball."
It's possible that "The Devil Wears Prada," a better, similar movie, was in everybody's sights. Or maybe the economy will make more of these overpopulated frivolities the norm for actors: It's work, people. Even for you, Drunken Lady at Ball.
Wesley Morris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.