About midway through Confessions Of A Shopaholic, I was struck with a question. “Why must actresses be relegated to making faces and falling over to get laughs in a comedy? Where are the women who can be both pretty and smartly funny, cracking wise without having to resort to pratfalls? Where are today’s female equivalents of someone like Bill Murray or Seth Rogen?” (Not that I think Murray or Rogen are pretty, mind you.)
Now I know that the first rule of movie reviewing is to write about the movie you saw, not the movie you wanted to see. To that end, Shopaholic is a painfully average romantic comedy whose plot points have been well travelled in numerous films before it. From the moment scatterbrained Rebecca (Isla Fisher) and Luke (Hugh Dancy, doing his best Hugh Grant-charming-and-bemused-Britisher impersonation) meet cute, the film follows the standard rom-com recipe with the diligence of a junior high school student in home economics class. Every ingredient is measured precisely, with no give or take for variation or personal style. It tastes exactly as it should, with no extra seasonings to spice things up.
Up to her eyeballs in debt, struggling writer Rebecca winds up with a job at a financial advice magazine, through the most obvious of “comedic” misunderstandings. Of course she doesn’t want to work there, instead eyeing a position at the magazine’s glossy, high fashion sister publication. But her columns on personal finances, in which she uses fashion metaphors, soon become the talk of the town. But her new found celebrity status is in jeopardy by a persistent bill collector who could expose her as not abiding by the advice she gives her readers. And of course, she’s falling for her boss.
Fisher first made a comic impression in Wedding Crashers, imbuing her supporting role with a manic comic energy. Unfortunately, the expansion of her screentime here is not met with a corresponding depth of character to play. This leaves Fisher just two notes to play- frenetic screwball and depressed once her world crashes down around her right on schedule. With no shading between the two extremes, it would be easy to understand if one were to interpret her character as being bi-polar.
Interestingly, there are a lot of old school comic actors sprinkled through the cast in various supporting roles- Joan Cusack and John Goodman play Rebecca’s doting parents, John Lithgow shows up as a domineering publisher and Julie Hagerty is a ditzy executive assistant. They’ve all appeared in material far better than this and they know it. Still they gamely plow ahead, breathing what life they can into their parts, perhaps grateful for the work. Perhaps some director will see their work here and be moved to cast them in roles more suited to their talents.