February 12, 2009

Written by Matt Goldberg

You can’t have it all, at least not these days. With the economy in turmoil and no immediate relief in sight, the question for audiences becomes “Do I want escapist entertainment that won’t remind me of my problems or do I want characters I can identify with who share my woes?” “Confessions of a Shopaholic” manages to appeal to both groups by twisting the Cinderella story of a woman who wants the glass slipper more than Prince Charming.

Rebecca Bloomwood (Isla Fisher), like America, is horribly in debt. She has spent beyond her means because she has access to easy credit and wants more than she’ll ever need (except instead of military supremacy and war, Rebecca wants clothes). When she loses her job at a gardening magazine, she accidentally finds her way to a financial magazine where she becomes a star because even though she’s really writing about fashion (her true passion) her editors and readers keep interpreting it as sage metaphors about frugality and responsibility.

If this all sounds highly unappealing, I don’t blame you. And yet, if we take a good look at ourselves, we should sympathize with Rebecca’s massive debt (I know I do) and as we try to muddle through our understanding of how our current financial collapse happened, it’s appropriate to have a heroine whose successful for trying to make tough financial ideas translate for the layman (even if that heroine doesn’t understand that financial advice herself).

But even if you can’t get on board with the subtext, you should have no problem being enchanted by Isla Fisher’s performance. This is a star-making role as she establishes herself as a leading comedienne reminiscent of Lucielle Ball. I know them’s fighting words but it’s more than just being a funny redhead. Fisher has a gift for comic timing that’s more than just knowing where to put the emphasis on a certain word or respond with a line of dialogue. She has a physical comedy that’s more than just slapstick. She knows exactly how to move her body and control her reactions perfectly in order to get the most laughs.

If there’s a part of this Cinderella story that hasn’t been twisted, it’s Prince Charming. In this case, it’s Rebecca’s editor Luke (Hugh Dancy). I wish this had been subverted a bit since other aspects (which I can’t really go into without spoiling anything) have a nice little twist. Dancy’s not bad in the role; it’s just that his character feels designed by a committee of lonely women creating their perfect man (“Oooh! And make him British! British accents are sexy!”).

The film’s other weakness is the runtime. There’s just no reason for the film to be almost two hours long and there are some scenes that aren’t bad but could easily have found the cutting room floor without weakening the rest of the picture. The film’s third act just drags since we know we’re getting a happy ever after (it doesn’t twist “Cinderella” that much) but it’s a chore to get there.

But these problems aside, “Confessions of a Shopaholic” is a delightful surprise that feels timely without being depressing and features a performance from Isla Fisher that presents her as one of the funniest comic actors working today.

Rating —– B minus

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