Movie Review: 'Confessions of a Shopaholic'

She shops, she drops, we know the feeling: Isla Fisher in the new romantic comedy
She shops, she drops, we know the feeling: Isla Fisher in the new romantic comedy "Confessions of a Shopaholic." (By Robert Zuckerman -- Touchstone Pictures)
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By John Anderson
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, February 13, 2009

What do you call a movie about a young woman who can't control her spending, runs her credit firmly into the ground and never pays anything off? "Miss America"? "An Enemy of the People"? Sorry, taken. And besides, "Confessions of a Shopaholic" is a far more palatable title for a too-close-for-comfort comedy that seems timed to thwart the entire economic stimulus package. How can consumers spend, spend, spend when a movie is going to make them feel pangs of remorse just for having bought a ticket? I saw it free and still feel guilty. Thanks goodness Isla Fisher doesn't look anything like Tim Geithner.

Fisher, the Scottish-blooded, Oman-born, Australia-reared actress ("Definitely, Maybe," "Wedding Crashers") looks more like the love child of Debra Messing and Jenna Fischer and is scheduled to become Mrs. Borat sometime in the near future (so give her some credit). As Rebecca Bloomwood -- shopper extraordinaire, FOB (Friend of Barneys) and nemesis of debt collectors -- she's the single reason to see what is really a rather cut-rate comedy.

Granted, Rebecca is incredibly sweet, frazzled and a journalist, which is one of the better jokes in the movie: No one who writes news for a living wants to get any closer to Bergdorf Goodman than someone with an open flame wants to get to Amy Winehouse. But somewhere during the time it took to make this movie, Rebecca went from being an object of mirth to being an economic metaphor.

It's glib, it's funny and it's simply too much: As we learn via her narration, Rebecca is enthralled by the magic of credit cards and is constantly amazed at the way American commerce can make you "lust for things you never knew you needed." Which is the definition of salesmanship, something to which Rebecca has no immunity whatsoever.

Is she the walking embodiment of irresponsible consumership? Absolutely, which may make the timing of "Confessions" fatal, although two things weigh in its favor: One is Fisher. The other is the fact that, as directed by P.J. Hogan ("Muriel's Wedding," "My Best Friend's Wedding"), "Confessions" is utterly oblivious to its own gravitas. Rebecca is the Lucy Ricardo of profligate spending, a lowly writer who desperately wants to work for Alette magazine -- a Vogue-ish fashion rag run by the imperious and semi-satanic Alette Naylor (Kristin Scott Thomas). As is explained to Rebecca, one way to get to Alette is via some other title within the corporate empire owned by Edgar West (John Lithgow).

Conveniently, an opening arises at West's struggling personal-finance mag, which is being edited by the dashing and secretly wealthy Luke Brandon (Hugh Dancy). And although Rebecca clearly knows nothing about responsible finance, personal or otherwise, she gets on board and becomes "The Girl in the Green Scarf" (a scarf bought on credit, by the way), whose common-sensical approach to spending belies the fact that the mystery columnist is the drunken pirate of plastic money.

It's all quite silly, and easy, and "Confessions of a Shopaholic" would never be called out by the rom-com umpire for not touching every base on its way toward home plate. The romance between Luke and Rebecca is a glacial-but-inevitable development, and Rebecca's relationship with her friend Suze (the wonderful Krysten Ritter) is full of inebriation and inadvertent rockiness: During one particularly inane sequence involving a 12-step meeting for shopaholics, the semi-insane Miss Korch (Wendie Malick) forces Rebecca to donate her bridesmaid gown to a thrift store. It ends up on a homeless woman who sings Harry Nilsson songs. When Suze, the bride-to-be, sees this, it upsets her to no end. But the whole thing feels like filler, much like the digressions involving Rebecca's parents (Joan Cusack and John Goodman). Or those 12-step meetings.

Rebecca may owe everybody for everything, but Fisher definitely owns the movie. She is the only one outside of Ritter who's giving a bona fide performance (Dancy, for instance, never seems able to focus his eyes on anyone else in the movie, and it's very disconcerting). She's also the only one treated at all well by cinematographer Jo Willems's camera, which makes everyone look pretty close to ghastly -- though not as ghastly as Rebecca's credit rating, of course.

Confessions of a Shopaholic (112 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG for vulgarity and adult themes.

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