In director P.J. Hogan’s frothy romantic comedy Confessions of a Shopaholic, Isla Fisher stars as a ditzy spendthrift who maxes out her credit card, plummets into debt and then slowly learns to become an economically responsible person. The movie’s consumerist themes are topical, which means it’s like totally happening now and stuff.
Hollywood lecturing audiences on the value of fiscal discretion is a challenging concept in itself, about as kosher as Belinda Neal extolling the virtues of composure and cool-headedness. As Fisher’s character battles addiction, discovering how to substitute Prada for prudence, the movie’s underlining message becomes brick-in-the-head obvious: don’t waste your dosh on useless crap. Unfortunately for the audience, by the time the message is clear it’s already too late. COAS is the kind of crappy Hollywood comedy that gives crappy Hollywood a very crappy name: predictable, deeply contrived, clumsily performed and about as funny as poke in the eye with a stiletto heal.
Isla plays airy beauty Rebecca Bloomwood, an oops-I-did-it-again kinda gal who bumbles through her economic coming of age with cheerful aloofness and a vacant, infomercial smile that seems to accentuate the empty space between her ears. Bloomwood’s ambitions are threefold: pay off her prodigious debts, conquer her addiction for shopping and bed the chisel-jawed hunk, Luke (Hugh Dancy). He’s the knight in shining Armani who heroically comes to the rescue early in the movie by helping her purchase an expensive green scarf, thus securing a place in the photo album of her most treasured memories. Bloomwood is an ailing journalist who longs to write for a prestigious fashion magazine but after a mix-up of application letters finds herself employed at a financial mag instead, writing a column about exercising consumer caution (oh the irony, the irony!). From herein the story enters ditzy-girl-shaking-up-the-foundation mode, ala Legally Blond, as Bloomwood’s candour and flippant work ethic unbelievably inspires a different way of thinking for the frumpy men and corporate twats around her.
The script is littered with small fiascos that Hogan milks for everything they’re worth, which isn’t much: Bloomwood trying to buy clothes without money; Bloomwood surviving a sale; Bloomwood bluffing through a job interview; Bloomwood joining a ‘shopaholics anonymous’ group. While attempting to impress a prospective boss, Bloomwood glimpses a newspaper and comments on the “fish crisis” before taking another glance and correcting it to “fiscal” and, ho ho, it’s this kind of whoopsy-do comedic contrivances that run thick and strong throughout. The scenes at shopaholics anonymous, where dreary shopping addicts gather in counsel to compare the number of days on and off the wagon, is a plotline especially ripe for comedy – but the script allocates it little time, provides it no real access points to the story and breezes over its seemingly obvious absurdity.
The concept driving Confessions of a Shopaholic gears towards reversing the rags to riches story, at least on paper. But you can never buy it: Fisher looks just as glamorous during the final sequence as she does in the first, and Hogan makes it abundantly clear that he simply won’t allow his star to grace the screen wearing anything other than a spectacular outfit. Three Dollars this is not. The film bears more resemblance to a diluted The Devil Wears Prada, thinning that film’s already thin commentary on corporate vanity. Needless to say it doesn’t have Meryl Streep either, instead relegating minor supporting roles to credible performers John Goodman and Joan Cusack, who are under-used, appear out of place but seem happy to pick up the pay check. It’s especially easy work for Goodman.
There is no doubt Isla Fisher has presence in the glittering main role, and the movie’s inadequacies aren’t her fault: she smiles at the right moments and graciously takes her comedic cues; she mixes awkwardness, innocuousness, innocence and stupidity as if they were second nature; she recites her lines earnestly as if she had faith they might form a part of something worthwhile. They don’t.
Confessions of a Shopaholic’s Australian theatrical release date: March 12, 2009