February 14, 2009

Confessions of a Shopaholic

The economic stimulus debate - now in Technicolor!

Grade: B –

Director: P.J. Hogan

Starring: Isla Fisher, Hugh Dancy, Krysten Ritter, Joan Cusack, John Goodman, Kristin Scott Thomas, John Lithgow, Fred Amisen, Robert Stanton, and Julie Hagerty

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Running Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

The time, place, and tenor of Confessions of a Shopaholic opens itself to obvious accusations that it is merely a cheap knockoff of such haute couture homages as The Devil Wears Prada and Sex and the City. Here, Manhattan-based protagonist Rebecca Bloomwood (Isla Fisher, Wedding Crashers) intones Carrie Bradshaw-esque monologues about fashion; her roommate, Suze (Krysten Ritter), physically resembles a cross between Devil costars Anne Hathaway and Emily Blunt; Kristin Scott Thomas plays a frosty French style magazine editor, following in the Prada-clad footsteps of Meryl Streep.

Indeed, a disconnect seemingly runs throughout this adaptation of the first two books in British writer Sophie Kinsella's popular series. Fashionistas will ogle the endless array of Gucci, Burberry and Yves Saint Laurent literally bursting out of Rebecca's closet (the film's costume designer is Patricia Field, who did similar work for Devil ... and Sex ...). Meanwhile, other viewers will choose to focus on the revolving credit lines and compounding interest endemic to Rebecca's corrosive consumerism. Her predilection for $200 underwear and $78 jars of honey soon adds up to $16,000 of debt accrued on 12 maxed-out credit cards. At her most literal and cynical, Beck is a sherbert-colored offshoot of the debtor society that has marched us to the edge of our current economic precipice.

Foiled in her attempt to land her dream job with a trendy fashion journal, Rebecca settles for work at a struggling money magazine, where she parlays her angst into a column on financially prudent shopping. The column becomes an overnight sensation, catapulting Rebecca and her dreamy Brit boss (Hugh Dancy) into celebrity. All the while, Rebecca does her best to conceal her personal financial woes and dodge a persistent collections agent (Robert Stanton).

Aussie director P.J. Hogan (Muriel's Wedding and My Best Friend's Wedding) keeps the message buoyant and mostly on point. Indeed, the film flies when Hogan accentuates the sly and surreal. During an elevator ride following a relapse of Rebecca's shopping binges, a muzak version of Amy Winehouse's "Rehab" plays in the background. And, a veritable chorus of animated mannequins appears throughout the film to woo Rebecca with its siren song of crass consumption.

Hogan's keen direction complements sturdy supporting turns from Thomas, John Lithgow, Joan Cusack, John Goodman and even Julie Hagerty. But, Fisher's razor-sharp comic timing is the true star, single-handedly generating an effervescent, whip-smart spunk that carries the film through several dull spots. Thematically speaking, Confessions of a Shopaholic tries to have its cake and eat it too, but Fisher turns out to be the icing that hides any imperfections.

Neil Morris

No comments: