Did P.J. Hogan film my wife's story without telling her, or worse still, paying her for the rights? Not only does the main character in 'Confessions of a Shopaholic' have the same first name as my lovely spouse, but she also exhibits behavior strikingly similar to what I witness on the rare occasions I accompany her to the mall. And if that's not enough, I can also personally relate to the horror of scanning our monthly credit cards bills for the inevitable charges for clothes, accessories, and – oh, the agony! – SHOES! All I can say is thank God our town doesn't have a Nordstrom's or Sak's, or we'd be in utter financial ruin.
I exaggerate, of course, but so many of these thoughts flitted through my brain as I watched this innocuous, slightly-more-substantive-than-the-norm romantic comedy. 'Confessions of a Shopaholic' may be culled from chick-lit and flaunt its share of overblown situations (all in the name of humor), but Hogan's film is savvy enough to tap into our current economic uncertainties and preach the benefits of fiscal responsibility. Though the lessons the main character learns come straight from Finance 101, they're certainly practical and bear repeating every once in a while.
Becky Bloomwood (Isla Fisher) is a budding New York journalist with one expensive vice – duh, shopping! It's an all-consuming passion, a comfort, an adrenaline rush, a craving that won't be denied – and she's got the out-of-control bills to prove it. "A man will never treat you as well or love you as much as a store," she says. But to support her habit, Becky needs a job, and her dream is to work at the high-toned fashion mag, Allette, under the tutelage of its eponymous, Miranda Priestley-like editor (Kristin Scott Thomas). Though she can't get her foot in the door there, she finagles her way onto the staff of one of its way-down-on-the-food-chain sister publications, Successful Saving. Becky, of course, knows next to nothing about pinching pennies, but she wings it by taking issues such as debt reduction and relating them to her personal shopping habits. Her anonymous column, "The Girl in the Green Scarf," strikes a chord with women all over the country and transforms Becky into an instant celebrity. The irony, however, is not lost on her best friend, Suze (Krysten Ritter), who quips incredulously, "You're advising people about debt, and you're up to your eyeballs in it!"
And those mounting I.O.U.s catch the attention of a ruthless debt collector who threatens to blow her cover, which will, in turn, jeopardize both her burgeoning career and blossoming romance with her scruffy British boss, Luke Brandon (Hugh Dancy). Will Becky be able to curb her spendthrift habits, pay her bills, and live happily ever after with her integrity and designer outfits intact? Well, what do you think?
'Confessions of a Shopaholic' loosely combines the first two novels in Sophie Kinsella's wildly popular series, transplanting the action to the U.S. and Americanizing most of the characters. Yet despite the Manhattan locations and New York accents, the film possesses a profoundly British flavor, reminding me of 'Bridget Jones' Diary' on more than one occasion. (Dancy's role is one that almost certainly would have gone to Hugh Grant a few years earlier, and it's tough not to envision the actor in the part.) Hogan follows the romantic comedy blueprint well, and plenty of goofy personalities, outrageous situations (a knock-down-drag-out catfight at a "samples sale" is a highlight), and heartwarming moments keeps the story well within genre parameters. Such familiar comic performers as Julie Hagerty, Joan Cusack, John Goodman, John Lithgow, Wendie Malick, Lynn Redgrave, and Fred Armisen spice up the proceedings even if they're largely wasted, and the script moves along at a brisk enough clip to keep even guy-boredom pretty much at bay.
The movie's success, however, hinges on its lead character, and Fisher does a nice job conveying the temptation that forever plagues the irrepressibly perky, hopelessly addicted Becky. Her portrayal often recalls Marilyn Monroe's classic incarnation of Lorelei Lee in 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes' – she looks dumb and often acts dumb, but deep down she's really intelligent in a street-smart, sensible, stand-up kind of way. Dancy makes a fine romantic foil, even if his attraction to Becky seems more like a Cinderella-Prince Charming contrivance than a genuine meeting of the hearts and minds.
'Confessions of a Shopaholic' is an anemic stepsister to 'The Devil Wears Prada,' but it makes some relevant points while providing a few laughs and some sweet romance. It's painless, mindless entertainment (with a little vicarious retail therapy thrown in) that will please the novel's fans and especially fashion aficionados, who are sure to drool over the chic outfits and cosmopolitan stores. My wife lived this movie – I mean loved this movie, and many other women will live it – I mean love it, too.
Disney presents another stellar transfer filled with vibrancy and subtle dimensionality. The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode possesses a very film-like feel with minimal processing and no noticeable glitches. Colors are warm and vivid; I actually expected candy-store saturation, but instead, the film sports a pleasing, realistic color palette that doesn't skimp on temperature or depth, but lends the story a nice weight. Contrast is well pitched, though a few scenes seem a tad bright. Blacks are generally rich, and whites are bold, but free of noise. Close-ups exhibit a fine level of detail with occasional moments of 3-D pop.
Of course, all the fashions and retail scenes look appropriately ritzy and glitzy, which is what matters most to this film's target audience. There are also no digital enhancements, and no marks or blemishes mar the pristine presentation. Though this is not quite a fairy tale transfer, the Disney magic is indeed on display, and keeps the studio's string of excellent video renderings intact.
The DTS-HD Master Audio track is also very good, but doesn't put forth the immersive surround experience I anticipated. Only during the various contemporary soundtrack tunes did the soundstage really come alive with the kind of full-bodied, well-shaded, and dynamic tones for which the format is known.
Otherwise, the track is merely adequate. Dialogue is well prioritized and always easy to comprehend, and the front channels pump out nicely balanced, well-mixed audio. Yet there's very little city ambience or noticeable directionality. For the most part, this is pretty standard sound. In shopaholic terms, it's Macy's, not Bergdorf's.
I was surprised by the slim amount of extras on this Disney release – no audio commentary, no comprehensive making-of featurette, no examination of Kinsella's novels and their popularity. I was also disappointed that my screener disc continually froze following each supplement. After playing one, I was unable to access any others until I went back to the main menu and started from scratch – a task that was both frustrating and time consuming. Hopefully such a glitch was unique to my disc and won't plague others.
'Confessions of a Shopaholic' won't change your life (or even curb your spending habits), but it's a pleasant diversion, thanks to slick direction, good performances, and a cute storyline. Excellent video, decent audio, and light-as-a-feather extras will be enough for fans to snatch up this disc on their next shopping spree. A rental will suffice for everyone else.
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