Confessions of a Shopaholic
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Theatrical Release Date: 02/13/2009
Director: P.J. Hogan
Cast: Isla Fisher, Hugh Dancy, Krysten Ritter, Joan Cusack, John Goodman, John Lithgow, Kristin Scott Thomas, Fred Armisen, Leslie Bibb, Wendie Malick

This Valentine’s Day, you and your special someone will have two romantic comedies to choose from: “He’s Just Not That Into You” and this week’s opening, “Confessions of a Shopaholic”. Choose the latter. Is that too blunt?

If this were a product comparison, this would be my analysis:

Confessions of a Shopaholic
He’s Just Not That Into You
Great comedic ensemble cast
Celebrity laden cast
Isla Fisher
Ginnifer Goodwin
One central love story
478 intertwining, angst bombs
Based on a Novel
Based on Self-Help Book
Has ability to appeal to Women AND Men
Y Chromosomes Beware

With a score of 4-0-1, I think it’s safe to call the match.

Of course, this is supposed to be a film review, not a score tally so let’s examine what goes into the better romantic comedy choice of the 2008 Singles Awareness Day weekend.

In “Confessions of a Shopaholic”, Isla Fisher plays a debt-laden maiden with an eye for the flashy fashion. In what could be termed a reverse “The Devil Wears Prada“, Fisher begins as superficial but well-intentioned; She aspires to work at the illustrious fashion magazine, Alette, but is forced to start lower on the ladder at a financial publication (where of course, she becomes enamored with her boss); She learns to look beyond the outward appearance of things and inside of her own core moral values rather instead of learning how to see the substance underneath the designer labels.

While I did make the case for choosing this film over the other possible date flicks going right now (plural if you count “Friday the 13th“), don’t necessarily take that to mean this is headed straight to the pantheon of romantic comedies. The script is run-of-the-mill, there’s nothing special about the direction and although Industrial Light and Magic CGI Mannequins can be fun, the cynic in me found it possible to realize that the film was going for a tongue-in-cheek approach to the lure of shopping but at the same time amusing myself with the idea that Fisher was delusional to the point of needing medication and professional help.

So how can a film with little underlying substance be worth your time and money? Simply put, by having fun (that other rom-com this season is awash in angst) and relying on the strength of the outstanding cast. Obviously, the first kudos must go to Isla Fisher. In every film she’s been in, her characters pop on-screen and engender instant likability. It’s virtually impossible not to root for her and the same is definitely true in “Shopaholic”. Her ability to mix physical comedy in with great comedic timing and winning stabs for sympathy from the audience all work well together. She makes it easy to believe that her character is addicted to shopping and I almost worry for Sacha Baron Cohen’s checkbook (if I wasn’t already so blinded by jealousy).

The casting department scored yet again with the supporting actors. Whether it’s Fisher’s parents (John Goodman & Joan Cusack), the fashion magazine staff (Kristin Scott Thomas & Leslie Bibb … mmm … Leslie Bibb), or the financial magazine staff (John Lithgow & Fred Armisen), all of them create surprisingly rich characters given their screen time and ho-hum, generic lines.

The most welcome find is Krysten Ritter, who plays Fisher’s best friend/roommate. While she isn’t a newcomer to the acting world, this is the first time I’ve seen her in a decently sized role and she embraced the opportunity. The chemistry between the pair clicked and I only wish there was another scene of the two managing their odd viewpoints of life – such as one of their first scenes when they go through Fisher’s credit card statements utilizing tequila to soften the blow.

If there’s a weak link in the ensemble, however, it’s Hugh Dancy. I did like his performance here much more than in “Evening” but that’s not saying anything. Part of his blandness in the film lies in his role as straight man to all the comedic actors and I acknowledge that; maybe I’m just used to other British actors (Hugh Grant, Colin Firth) being able to pull off similar roles with a more inclusive feel in their romantic comedies.

While I absolutely loved the cast and Fisher is remarkably adorable, the pedantic script and predictable nature of the film brought “Confessions of a Shopaholic” down a notch and I can only give it a solid 3 out of 5. Still, this is a fun time and easily better than “He’s Just Not That Into You“. I know they both received the same scores but if I could extend the ratings out a few decimal points, it would be more like 2.51 for the superstar-studded monolith that is “He’s Just Not That Into You” and a 3.23 for Isla Fisher and company. With rounding, you see how things go.

Keep that in mind when you need to bring your sweetie to the movies this Valentine’s Day. Whether man or woman, “Confessions of a Shopaholic” will give better bang for the buck and it’s over twenty minutes shorter! That’s more time for lovin’ where I come from. Thank me later.