Before we get to the film review proper, I need to briefly comment on the two trailers which preceded it – Jonas Bros: The 3D Concert Experience and Hannah Montana: The Movie. The first looks like unmitigated cheese (as expected), a clear duplication of the earlier Hannah/Miley concert film in format and formula – hey, if it worked for her, why change it? And we are talking about formula films here, let’s face it…this is Disney after all. Not much else to note other than that for what is supposed to be a ‘candid’ look at the Jonas boys ‘behind the scenes’, it’s clearly scripted and staged to the nth degree, but again, we’re dealing with an entity that likes to exercise full control over even the so-called private moments of their charges, aren’t we - so no surprises there. It goes without saying that the tweeners will love it.
Another matter entirely is to watch the wholly unappealing Miley Cyrus wheel out her Hannah Montana schtick for what must surely be the last go-around, judging by the way she looks on screen. Yes readers, Hannah is growing up – or should I say growing old(er) - and it aint pretty…girlfriend is looking rough. Of course we all see pap shots of her every single day but nothing really compares to how cruelly one’s imperfections are magnified on that big screen. What is she, 16? Well she looks about 35 and not a very good 35 at that. Add to that one of the worst overbites ever to grace celluloid and you can’t help but feel sorry for the photoshoppers working on the posters. A telling moment is offered when Miley is seen hurtling down a hallway on a buggy, only to burst through one of her own ‘Hannah’ banners, thereafter sporting Hannah’s face, torn from the poster, over her own…the difference between the real Miley and the photoshopped Miley is startling, and you wonder why instead of opting for a bad veneer job she didn’t just visit a good craniofacial surgeon for a complete jaw reconstruction. Lord knows she could afford it. Or maybe not after the continuing drain her father’s hair-straightening and underwear model addiction is having on the family finances.
To Confessions of a Shopaholic. Overall, this was a thoroughly likeable film, if a bit slow in the first half. Isla Fisher proves she can more than carry a film in this charming little bit of escapism, made very timely by the fiscal mire we now find ourselves enduring, courtesy of those to whom her character’s $16k credit card debt would look like an absolute gift right about now. For the rest of us it’s a slightly more hysteria-inducing reality (and a shade too close to the truth for this correspondent), just as it is for Fisher’s Rebecca Bloomwood, shopping fiend turned financial columnist when she takes a career detour and inadvertently lands a job writing for a magazine dedicated to the penny-wise.
However it’s more pound-foolish as Rebecca continues to shop up a storm in the face of all sense, and I have to admit this had me wanting to slap her on many occasions throughout the film…but in a tough-love sort of way, you understand. Fisher manages never to let her character tip over the edge into complete caricature, which would be so easy to do in this broadly-drawn film, though she does teeter on the edge for much of the first 40 minutes or so. What saves her is not just her genuine warmth but the fact that unlike many actresses out there, she can actually move her face, and you end up being won over by her sheer likeability and obvious willingness to send herself up.
PJ Hogan is mostly on form in this flick, doing what he does so well – feel-good comedies with off-beat heroines who we relate to and find ourselves cheering for – but you do get the sense sometimes that this is a groove he’s wearing a little bit thin. Perhaps this is why the first half drags as it does…it’s tempting to think that right at that moment it was all about to descend into high farce, someone gave him the same slap that Rebecca was shaping up for, and it’s like he wakes from his trance and the film suddenly whips into life. Up until that point, everyone is just coasting along, almost going through the motions, with some characters verging on whiny and annoying…so it’s not a moment too soon really.
The film really gets a lift from its stellar supporting cast, of whom I have to say my personal favorite was Wendy Malik (of Just Shoot Me fame), playing the ‘Cruella de Vil’ of support group leaders as the no-nonsense ‘shopaholics anonymous’ group facilitator. The usually fabulous John Lithgow turns in a nothing performance (nothing but the pay-check, thanks) with admittedly very little screen time, and Kristin Scott Thomas takes her flawlessly snooty French accent out for a turn as editor of ‘Alette’, the fashion magazine which bears her name and which is Rebecca’s personal Everest in the story, until her credit card debt gets in the way that is.
Hugh Dancy is likeable but somewhat underwhelming as Fisher’s love interest…perhaps it was his underbite which was distracting me. It could be that I spent too much time ruminating on the fact that between him and Miley you could just about manage to make a decent jawline out of the spare parts…anyway, I guess he was okay, if a little wet. Kind of meh, if you know what I mean…I know there are others who see it differently, and each to their own…he just doesn’t float my boat (I’m more of a Colin Firth sort of girl), but that certainly doesn’t detract from the fact he plays a reasonably solid foil to Fisher throughout.
Playing her usual oddball character as Rebecca’s mother is Joan Cusack, who I swear looks increasingly strange every time I see her in a film. Never conventionally beautiful, I can’t quite put my finger on what she’s doing to her face that actually makes her look more pinched and squinty-eyed than age can account for as the years progress…certainly she sports the immobile collagen-filled top lip that seems so de rigueur amongst older actresses these days, but other than that…I don’t know. But whatever she’s doing, she really needs to stop.
Special mention must be made of John Goodman’s wig, which really needs its own acting credit here – it showcases its versatility throughout by displaying a different parting and shade in every appearance, defying continuity for sure but nonetheless delivering a standout performance by managing to never quite look natural, no matter what angle the hair-and-makeup people try. As for Goodman himself I have to say it’s a little sad to see the big man these days…it’s been a long road from his days as the bluff and cuddly Dan on Roseanne, one that has been littered (by all reports) with boat-loads of booze and coke amongst other things…and boy, it shows. Only a few months out of rehab when filming began, it’s hard not to wonder if he hadn’t begun to fall off the wagon again while playing the part of Rebecca’s dad, given he looks so drawn and bleary-eyed at times. It would be tempting to argue that his hair-piece does most of the acting for him, but no matter what the circumstances, he always manages to light up whatever scene he is in. I can’t deny it, I like the man. PLEASE GET SOME HELP JOHN, YOUR FANS LOVE YOU.
Of course the review wouldn’t be complete without making mention of the many fabulous (and sometimes downright strange) outfits in the film, which have Patricia Field’s signature stamp all over them. I have to be honest and say I had no idea what she was thinking pairing the green scarf with the outfit she did in one of the key opening scenes, and this is coming from someone that pretty much always likes what Ms. Field does, even if I can’t always wear it myself. That said, the film was a feast for the fashion senses and shows she has lost none of her touch as a costumier and stylist, even if her Johnny-come-lately fashion-designer credentials are a little bit suspect.
I haven’t read the Shopaholic books myself, but understand from those who have that there is little to disappoint fans here, despite the fact that large tracts of detail from the books don’t make it to the screen. Such is the way of the adapted screenplay my friends.
Despite my nit-picking, I must stress that I really liked this film, and I loved Isla Fisher in it – she is a great comedic actress with just the right light and shade to make a role like this work (not to mention her utterly enviable hair, the colour of which seems totally unique to her and which I think she needs to slap a trademark on stat). There are plenty of laugh out loud moments, as well as a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it debut appearance of the poster from up-coming Bruckheimer flick, Prince of Persia – from memory the only bare chest we get to see in the whole film. Unfair!
In these times of economic stress, Confessions of a Shopaholic rings all the right notes - not only is it a lovely light-hearted bit of escapism, it is also (believe it or not) a timely message on frugality - giving lie to the doom-merchants who predicted only a few months ago that the timing was all wrong for such a (supposedly) frivolous film. Personally, I think the time is just right, and you could do much worse than spending a few of your hard-earned bucks going to see this film.