Director P.J. Hogan made his name helming Muriel's Wedding and My Best Friend's Wedding, a pair of "You Go Girl!" comedies that, on the surface, popped with chick-flick enthusiasm. Thankfully, Hogan made sure that his main characters' darker qualities -- their neediness and insecurities -- shaped their relationship problems just as much as their love for ABBA and Burt Bacharach did. That darkness made those films something special, but Hogan leaves the darkness behind in Confessions of a Shopaholic. He turns a blind eye to the selfishness of his main character -- bubbly, clothes-crazy Manhattanite Rebecca Bloomwood (Isla Fisher) -- and the result is infuriating.
Rebecca toils away as a staffer at a gardening magazine, but her goal is to work at high-end fashion publication "Alette." However, steady employment feeds her belief that she can afford to go on shopping sprees for the most expensive clothes in New York, something she does with such regularity that she's rung up over 10,000 dollars in credit-card debt. This brings her to the attention of a tenacious bill collector named Derek Smeath (Robert Stanton), whom she must go to extreme lengths to avoid. After an unexpected layoff, Rebecca lands a job at a money magazine owned by Alette's parent company, believing that she can eventually transfer to her dream job. Ironically, in her new position, she writes a column in which she dispenses financial advice in terms that clothing-obsessed readers can understand. After her first column -- published under the fanciful byline "Girl in the Green Scarf" -- becomes an Internet sensation, her career goes into overdrive. As her star rises, though, she's forced to tell more and more elaborate lies to keep her financial troubles a secret from her boss (Hugh Dancy) -- whom she, of course, gets the hots for -- not to mention her readers, who look to her for advice.
All of this old-school comedy of errors stuff might fly if we cared about Rebecca, but she's such a selfish, cartoony character that she just grates. The movie plays her ceaseless spending as cute and funny -- the problems they cause are "movie" problems as opposed to real ones, and they are easily solved thanks to her celebrity as the Girl in the Green Scarf. And considering that the country is in deep financial turmoil, it's hard to sit through a movie so flippant about personal bankruptcy. This is not to say that movies should be doom and gloom, but what makes Confessions of a Shopaholic such a disaster is that it doesn't work as just light entertainment either. The editing and the writing are over the top, but the performances -- aside from Isla Fisher's -- aren't comically overstated enough; everybody underplays when they needed to play to the back of the theater. Fisher is the only one who appears to understand that, from a comedic standpoint, she has to crank it up to 11, but apparently the director couldn't get anyone else on the same page. As a result, Confessions of a Shopaholic lets down both its actress and the audience. leave a comment --Perry Seibert