Monday, March 02, 2009

Confessions of a Shopaholic / **½ (PG)

Rebecca Bloomwood: Isla Fisher
Luke Brandon: Hugh Dancy
Suze: Krysten Ritter
Alicia Billington: Leslie Bibb
Jane Bloomwood: Joan Cusack
Graham Bloomwood: John Goodman
Edgar West: John Lithgow
Alette Naylor: Kristin Scott Thomas

Touchstone Pictures presents a film directed by P.J. Hogan. Written by Tracey Jackson and Tim Firth and Kayla Alpert. Based on the books “Confessions of a Shopaholic” and “Shopaholic Takes Manhattan” by Sophie Kinsella. Running time: 104 min. Rated PG (for some mild language and thematic elements).

Ah, the romantic comedy. It’s always nice to see a movie that you know is going to make you feel good in the end. In the current economic crisis there are few things that movies are better for than escapism. But, to have that escapism come in the form of a story about a girl who just loves to shop? Well, what good would escapism be, if we let little things like money get in the way of an enjoyable night at the movies?

In “Confessions of a Shopaholic” we meet Rebecca Bloomwood, a perky little journalist who has a small credit problem. Her problem is that she just can’t keep her credit card in her purse. Becky isn’t totally without ambition, however. She dreams of writing for the fashion magazine, Alette, run by fashion maven Alette Maylor (Kristin Scott Thomas playing French again after last year’s “I’ve Loved You So Long”). When a shopping spree makes Becky late for an interview at Alette, she decides to apply for a job at a sister financial magazine under the same publisher.

The financial magazine’s new editor-in-chief, Luke Brandon, decides to take a chance on Becky as part of his plan to try to reach everyday people. He assigns her a column giving financial advice of all things. Of course, he is as handsome and charming as she is cute, pretty and spunky; and the two are destined to fall in love. Isla Fisher (“Definitely, Maybe”) in the lead proves she has the ability to carry a romantic comedy and wear unconventional fashion well. Hugh Dancy (“Savage Grace”) is suitably understanding and British for his role as Luke.

Becky’s column becomes a sensation inside and outside the financial world, and she becomes an overnight success. But, she still can’t keep up with her credit card bills. Her roommate and best friend Suze (Krysten Ritter, “What Happens in Vegas”) observes the irony behind Becky handing out financial advice. This all leads to the unfortunate development of a debt collector tracking Becky down. The debt collector introduces the ugliest cliché of the romantic comedy—the secret that the newfound love interest can’t find out about because it will change his whole perception of the girl he thinks he loves. This is a false crisis. Once he finds out this secret information, he will break off the relationship and she must find a way to win him back or let him go, which is usually what it takes to get him back anyway.

Now, I think the romantic comedy is really a fun genre. I’m a guy who actually likes a chick flick. But what I don’t like is a paint-by-numbers screenplay, especially if the conflict is contrived and unnecessary to tell the story. I don’t know if the debt collector is a creation of the screenwriters or if he existed in the “Shopaholic” novels by Sophie Kinsella, but there is plenty of conflict and comedy already explored in the story’s satirizing of shoppers and sales, the fashion industry, and even the financial world. There are enough differences between Becky and Luke to make their relationship interesting and conflicted without succumbing to typical plot machinations.

“Confessions of a Shopaholic” will please most people just looking for a way to escape their everyday lives and provides a good romantic story with interesting characters and actors. If you don’t try to think too much about where the plot is going, you can just sit back and enjoy. The obviousness of the plot clichés utilized by the filmmakers makes that easier said than done. I liked this movie, but I would’ve liked it better with the Hollywood fat trimmed off it.

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