Confessions of a Shopaholic (2009) dir. PJ Hogan
Starring: Isla Fisher, Hugh Dancy, John Goodman, Joan Cusack, Kristin Scott Thomas
A Jerry Bruckheimer romantic comedy? Why not. The uber-producer's first crack at this genre brings Sophie Kinsella's popular book series to the big screen. Bruck brings back once-hot romcom director PJ Hogan ('Muriel's Wedding', 'My Best Friend's Wedding') to Hollywood and casts scene stealing actress/Mrs. Sacha Baron Cohen Isla Fisher for her first breakout starring role. All the chick flick ingredients are there - fashion, weddings, big city Manhattan lure, a handsome British bachelor - and so the film satisfies all expectations, but doesn't exceed them.
Rebecca Bloomwood (Isla Fisher) is a single 30-ish New York fashion writer, with an affliction– a love for shopping. Her credit card debt has become so large she's barely hanging on financially. When she loses her job, reality of her insecure lifestyle comes crashing down on, forcing her into a dire situation of finding work, which ironically is as a writer for a financial magazine.
Though she’s a fish out of water in the financial world she finds common ground with her own problems with debt and develops a successful column about credit card financing. Her editor, Luke Brandon (Hugh Dancy) is also eligible, good looking, and of similar age and so sparks are ignited between the two. Threatening Rebecca’s escape from economic and personal despair is her deception against her own debt problems and the collection agency which relentlessly tracks her down.
“Confessions” is kinda impressive from a structural screenwriting point of view. Every minor character has a tracked subplot, which ties into Rebecca’s journey. The linking of everything in her life is bullet-proofed and triple-checked for relevance and significant to the plot and character arcs of the film.
First there’s Rebecca, perhaps as a way of distancing herself from her middle class parentage, lives beyond her means and sells out to big bad Manhattan. Her parents – unsung casting of John Goodman and Joan Cusack, represent the conscience in Rebecca’s life, penny-pinchers, who lived humbly their whole lives without ever experiencing the world, like Rebecca has chosen to do.
There’s her personal life, which is a farce, barely floating above mounds of debt. She’s in a wedding party for her best friend and is even forced to make a choice of friendship or career when she can only afford to buy one dress – an ugly bridesmaid gown, or a luxurious dress for her TV interview debut.
There’s her career, which ironically has her preaching not what she practices. Fearing she'll be discovered as a sham, she choses to deceive her boss and her public readers about her own debt problems. The key visual metaphor like her expensive 'green scarf', which she buys at the beginning of the film, becomes her literary pseudonym as well as the symbol of the dual life she’s leading. Like the shameful US mortgage market, we know Rebecca’s house of cards will eventually come crashing down.
Structure doesn’t make a film, but as a basis, the filmmakers are in the right ballpark and set the audience up for a satisfactory cinema experience. As such, “Confessions” has the guts, but misses the heart.
I’d say it’s almost there. Isla Fisher is a welcome new romantic comedy lead. Though I didn’t much care for the slapstick elements, Fisher jettisons her inhibitions and goes for every laugh. Director Hogan sets her free in one marvelous scene on the dance floor when she segues from a tango to an improvised and absurd freeform dance number.
Hugh Dancy, as Rebecca’s romantic interest is watchable, another fresh face for a role which 5-10 years prior would have gone to the excruciating Hugh Grant. It’s an easier role for him to play – essentially the straight man to Rebecca’s silly antics, a man who just needs to look good in a suit and be charming.
It's not saying much but of the chick flicks I’ve seen in the last 3 years – “What Happens in Vegas”, “Sex in the City”, “Bride Wars”, “Fool’s Gold”, “PS: I Love You”, “27 Dresses”, “Definitely Maybe”, “The Nanny Diaries”, “Confession of a Shopaholic” is probably one of the better ones.
"Confessions of a Shopaholic" is available on Blu-Ray and DVD from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment