Friday, February 20, 2009

Confessions of a Shopaholic: No account

Confessions of a Shopaholic (2009) • View trailer for Confessions of a Shopaholic
Two stars (out of five). Rating: PG, for no particular reason
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 2.20.09
Buy DVD: Confessions of a Shopaholic • Buy Blu-Ray: Confessions of a Shopaholic (Two-Disc Special Edition + Digital Copy) [Blu-ray]

I tried to imagine, while leaving the theater with such a rancid taste in my mouth, whether I'd have loathed the heroine of Confessions of a Shopaholic even if the film had been released at a time when the entire U.S. economy weren't tanking.

Oh, yes, I decided.
After indulging in another spending binge, Rebecca (Isla Fisher, center in light
cap) is confronted by "Shopaholics Anonymous" group leader Miss Korch
(Wendie Malick, holding Fisher's arm), who insists on the "tough love"
measure of forcing our heroine to donate everything she just purchased to a
charity outlet. Naturally, this will include a bridesmaid's dress for Rebecca's
best friend's wedding, layering even more "comic tension" into this big-screen
adaptation of Sophia Kinsella's popular book.


That said, I cannot imagine what was going through the minds of everybody at Disney, to have made them believe that filmgoers wouldn't revolt at the very sight of this thumpingly laughless tribute to conspicuous, debt-laden con- sumption.

Intelligent people — those with a shred of perception — understand that some stereotypes wear out their welcomes; some even become offensive over time. Al Jolson's blackface routine in The Jazz Singer would elicit riots today. Dudley Moore's cuddly bazillionaire in 1981's Arthur was pretty much the last "lovable souse" that Hollywood dared put on the big screen.

And, let's face it, now is not the time to expect us to embrace this film's ditzy-but-good-hearted-deep-down Rebecca Bloomwood (Isla Fisher), who spends herself into multiple calamities during the course of this clumsy, gaspingly ill-conceived attempt at a romantic comedy.

"Desperate" is the word that comes to mind, when scrutinizing this ill-conceived flick. That single word covers Fisher's performance, director P.J. Hogan's efforts to wrest a few giggles from the lifeless script, and Disney's damn-the-torpedos decision to punish us with the wretched result.

Granted, Sophia Kinsella's book — and its sequels — obviously struck a chord with a subset of readers: most specifically those who identified with a financially challenged heroine who couldn't fathom credit card interest penalties if her life depended on it.

But scripters Tracey Jackson, Tim Firth and Kayla Alpert retained only the basic concept while strip-mining Kinsella's novel, and moving it from England to the United States (a serious miscalculation, right off the top).

Somehow, they left all the charm behind. What emerges, under Hogan's ham-fisted guidance, is just this side of a train wreck.

I kept flashing back, amid this lamentable viewing experience, to the memorable image in Mel Brooks' original 1968 version of The Producers: the shot of the theater audience, wide-eyed and slack-jawed into stunned silence, utterly paralyzed by the tasteless lunacy of that debut performance of "Springtime for Hitler."

I'm sure last week's preview movie audience looked just that way, as we slogged through this big-screen ruination of Confessions of a Shopaholic.

Fisher's Rebecca is a fun-loving gal who makes the most of her fashion-energized New York City environment, where her multiple credit cards suffer from friction burn, and she imagines that department store window dummies beckon her inside, to buy the items they model so attractively. Best friend and roommate Suze (Krysten Ritter) tolerates this wretched excess, even going so far as to temporarily cover Rebecca's rent payment, whenever the situation gets too dire.

Which is the first indication, by the way, that this film eschews reality even too much for its status as a brain-dead comedy: As presented, Rebecca never would catch up, Suze never would get paid back, and she long ago would have kicked her deadbeat "friend" into the gutter.

But let us do push on.

Apparently possessing some minimal journalistic ability — which we accept only because the script tells us to — Rebecca believes all her troubles will vanish if she can secure a job with the high-tone fashion magazine she has long admired. But when she can't even get an interview, she settles for a sit-down with Luke Brandon (Hugh Dancy), the editor of a financial magazine published by the same company; after all, it's a foot in the door.

Rebecca fumbles the interview in spectacularly klutzy fashion, gets drunk that evening and then mixes up two letters: one a stubbornly unsolicited piece for the fashion mag, the other an unkind kiss-off to Luke.

Next thing she knows, Luke has hired her, because he's so impressed by how cleverly she "translated" arcane economic concepts into the sort of "metaphoric" shopping experience that can be understood by even the dumbest reader.

Let us now pause for a moment.

Fisher certainly isn't convincing as a writer; she can't even play inebriated with any credibility. She does "drunk" like an 8-year-old might imagine such an experience. The notion that Luke would hire Fisher's Rebecca Bloomwood for anything, even in this film, is impossible to accept; the fact that he continues to defend her, as the narrative escalates even further into contrived lunacy, makes him look like such a blithering idiot that he should be kicked into the gutter.

And yet we're supposed to accept all this nonsense as somehow "reasonable."

Fisher's absence of talent notwithstanding, the major problem is that Rebecca simply isn't a very nice person. She lies to her best friend; she lies to her boss; she displays all the charm of a heroin addict; and at this script's absolutely lowest moment — and, believe me, that's quite a contest — she raises only half-hearted objections when her parents (John Goodman and Joan Cusack) quite seriously promise to sell their beloved motor home, in order to bail her out of the newest financial calamity.

(Class, can we spell "enablers?")

I dunno. Maybe such a character would have been funny and no more than giddily helpless 20 years ago, but she sure ain't funny now. Too many of us know social parasites like Rebecca Bloomwood these days: cretins who honestly believe that merely retaining possession of a credit card — one that hasn't been reclaimed by the bank, or scissored by a store owner — means that they must still have money in the bank, and therefore can keep spending away.

The dynamic isn't helped by the utter absence of chemistry between Fisher and Dancy, who behave throughout this picture as though they just met five minutes earlier, their dialogue displaying all the conviction and warmth of unrehearsed audition readings. Ritter, in great contrast, is quite endearing, and she deserves a better film in which to strut her stuff.

Goodman and Cusack seem to be making up their lines as they go along, and John Lithgow and Kristen Scott Thomas phone in cameos as the upper-echelon publishers who regard Rebecca with a gimlet eye before being "won over by her charms." Yeah, right.

To return from whence I began, at the top of this review, Confessions of a Shopaholic would have been a dog no matter when released.

At the moment, however, it's a particularly shameful and contemptible dog.

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