Thursday, November 17, 2011

Women Are Idiots (That's Not Me Saying That, That's Confessions Of A Shopaholic)!

The Good: Looks good
The Bad: Unlikable characters, Monolithic presentation of women, No charm, Poor acting, Overbearing soundtrack.
The Basics: A decent social message about responsible spending is buried beneath contrived plots and ridiculous gender stereotypes that makes Confessions Of A Shopaholic easy to avoid!

Last night, as a little relief for me from my ongoing race through films that won the Best Picture, I decided to take in a new movie. My partner wasn't feeling well, so while she slept and I waited for her fever to break, I popped in the DVD of Confessions Of A Shopaholic. For those who have read my other reviews, you know I have been dreading seeing this film because the previews looked just that bad to me. Sadly, seeing the film finally confirmed my worst fears about it. This movie treats women in a monolithic way and it reinforces all of the worst stereotypes about them. In this film, women are simply shopping-crazed, giggling girls with no real understanding of money or responsibility and the sole desire to get married and acquire new outfits and accessories. Confessions Of A Shopaholic is not funny, not charming and not at all original. Instead, it is a quagmire of cinematic suck that ought to get everyone associated with it banned from making movies ever again.

Why, then, did I even bother with Confessions Of A Shopaholic if I thought it would be so bad? First, as part of my tradition of trying to experience all I can of films in a given year in order to accurately consider the best and worst of the year's cinema, it became a necessary thing (oh yes, it make the "Worst Of 2009" list!). Second, and most importantly, I had truly enjoyed Isla Fisher in Definitely, Maybe (reviewed here!) and my thought was that if anyone could turn what looked like a trainwreck in the previews around, this young actress ought to be given the chance. Sadly, the previews were entirely revealing of the film and Confessions Of A Shopaholic is shallow, predictable and so canned that it is exactly what the characters in it are: empty shells masquerading as desirable.

Rebecca Bloomwood is a journalist who loves to shop. After a series of impulse shopping trips that rack up a massive credit card debt and the magazine she works for folding, Rebecca finds herself in a serious fiscal crisis. As a debt collector, Derek Smeath, hunts Rebecca and her excuses run thin, she lands a job working for a small financial magazine where she writes articles that compare finances to shopping and they resonate well with readers. They also get her the attention of the magazine's new editor-in-chief, Luke Brandon, who was brought in from the media conglomerate to turn the small magazine around.

Soon, though, Rebecca's life is spiraling out of control. As Derek nears, her best friend Suze gets her enrolled in Shopaholics Anonymous and tries to help Rebecca reform before her own wedding. Rebecca is exposed by Derek as the shopaholic that is the antithesis to her own column's advice, which guts Rebecca's chance of landing her dream job at Alette Magazine, costs her Luke's interest and finds her without her bridesmaid's dress, thanks to a new more militant leader at Shopaholics Anonymous. Can Rebecca repair her damaged reputation, get her bridesmaid's dress back and become of interest to her boss, Luke again?

Who cares!? What isn't cliche in Confessions Of A Shopaholic is thoroughly unlikable and almost all of the conflicts in the movie are either predictable or melodramatic. On the predictable side, there is the romantic subplot between Luke and catty Alette writer Alicia. Similarly, the plot predictability of the best friend getting married, will Rebecca actually make it to the wedding to be a bridesmaid conflict is obvious. It's that kind of movie. But that plot is also melodramatic and the over-the-top girlish stereotype of Rebecca and Suze is not only annoying, it is offensive.

Women in Confessions Of A Shopaholic are monolithically ditzy with little real strength and less resolve. The men are smart, rational and ruthless, so they fare no better in the film. Indeed, the only thing more ridiculous than the gross gender stereotypes in the movie is how Luke suddenly transforms into that type woman's ideal when he reveals he knows all of the major designers (he "speaks Prada") making him even more of a catch for Rebecca. I suppose it is a marginally better use of character than suddenly making Luke a cheap gay stereotype by suddenly being able to speak like the women in the movie.

The thing is, director P.J. Hogan makes Confessions Of A Shopaholic look good, but like the characters, it is an empty beauty. The movie is filmed in bright colors with great contrast and a color palate that plays on all the same tones as a candy counter, but the longer one looks at the movie, the less overwhelmed they are by the look and one is left with the substance. Or lack thereof. Confessions Of A Shopaholic is shocking in that the 104 minute movie took three screenwriters to adapt the books to film. Not one of them was able to translate (if it were possible) a likable character to the screen that the audience might empathize with.

The few potential points Confessions Of A Shopaholic could have made are quickly undermined by the cheap joked made in their place. Confessions Of A Shopaholic could be a searing indictment of capitalism and marketing gone awry and ruining the lives of innocent consumers. Instead, Rebecca takes no responsibility for her actions and she presents her shopping love as part of a fairy tale she was raised on. Her parents, likable lower/lower-middle class workers, are never chided enough for not preparing her to live in the real world where her bills would actually have to be paid.

Ultimately, though, Confessions Of A Shopaholic does not rail against the systems, it illustrates how vacuous getting love from shopping is, but only after belaboring just how wonderful all of the things one can get are. Similarly, those who have ever suffered from an addiction are likely to find Confessions Of A Shopaholic downright offensive for the way addictions and impulse control issues are used interchangeably. Rebecca does not suffer a serious compulsion and the way her "shopaholic" nature is presented makes some pretty cheap shots at those who have real addictions.

And the soundtrack is just terrible. Throughout the film, inane dance-pop numbers overwhelm the viewer and it's just loud.

The final disappointment for me was the acting. The acting in Confessions Of A Shopaholic is homogeneously bad, though part of this certainly comes from virtually every performer playing an unlikable character. So much talent is wasted and one has to wonder how John Goodman, John Lithgow, and Kristin Scott Thomas became involved with this project. Krysten Ritter looks especially skeletal as Suze, setting up a pretty dangerous standard for girls who might watch this (it is PG!). Even Hugh Dancy, who blew me away a few days ago in Adam is listless and unconvincing as Luke.

But Isla Fisher is responsible for carrying Confessions Of A Shopaholic as Rebecca and she plays the role in such an offensive way toward women that the only analogy I have is a minstrel show. Fisher plays the role of Rebecca like the lowest parody of woman, much the way minstrel shows used to and the longer the movie goes on, the more difficult it is to watch her go through the motions of every rotten stereotype about how ditzy and dishonest young women are. If there's no other reason to avoid Confessions Of A Shopaholic it is to avoid encouraging other writers and directors to use Ms. Fisher as the Uncle Tom of the double x chromosomes.

On DVD, Confessions Of A Shopaholic has some bonus features. I sat through previews for other romantic comedies, but could not stomach checking any other bonus features out.

And I'd say "sorry," but I'm not. This movie is one of the year's worst films and now that I've seen it, I can say that with all the authority and integrity my prior suppositions lacked. Save this much of your life and tune in to something better!

For other “chick flicks,” be sure to visit my reviews of:
Easy A
Love And Other Drugs
He's Just Not That Into You


For other film reviews, please visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011, 2010, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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