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From the opening scenes, when we first meet Isla Fisher's Rebecca Bloomwood as a child, you can tell the film is feeling pretty fabulous about its frothy self; it just swaggers with confidence that everything is perfectly matched. Try as you might, that feeling -- buoyed by the silky flounce of Fisher and the Armani smoothness of Hugh Dancy -- is infectious.
Nevertheless, there will be those who ask, "Fabulous yes, but at what cost?" For there is the "aholic" in the shop here, and though the film is definitely about the romantic ups and downs of Rebecca, a money magazine journalist who absolutely does not dress the part, and Dancy's Luke Brandon, her editor, it's also about addiction. In this case, Rebecca's obsessive need to buy things she doesn't need with money she doesn't have courtesy of what as a child she called "magic cards."
Though there are consequences woven throughout, including a 12-step program that flashes in and out of her life, "Confessions" is no "Requiem for a Dream" of addiction accountability (though the way the storefront mannequins come to life to seduce her is a bit scary). When her father, played by John Goodman, essentially brushes off her excesses with "Your mother and I think that if the American economy can be billions in debt and still survive, so can you," you have to think the line might have played better 18 months ago. Now it's just a sad reminder of the dismal fiscal collapse that waits right outside the theater door.
All of which is to say, if you're looking for a serious examination of the staggering credit-card debt so many in this nation carry and the families and lives destroyed by it, watch the nightly news . . . don't look here. But if a knockabout farce of a thousand ways to outwit that persistent, pesky and downright unpleasant debt collector, played by a decidedly annoying Robert Stanton, while falling in love might amuse you, then feel free to indulge. For those who have read any of Sophie Kinsella's self-deprecating chick-lit books, which the film is based on, you already have a good idea of what you're in for.
However you dress it up, the heart of a romantic comedy is the romance, and Dancy and Fisher do a fine job of it here. If looks could melt, these two would be puddles. It begins with a chance encounter -- Rebecca cuts in front of Luke in a long line at a street-corner hot dog stand, hoping for enough cash back to buy a designer scarf she's convinced is essential for her interview at the high-end fashion magazine of her dreams. But the job is gone before she gets there, and a quick reroute to another of the publishing giants' magazines lands her right across the desk from Luke.
A few pratfalls later -- ones that have Rebecca hiding in a rack of clothes in an attempt to intercept a letter that would damage her, then crawling down a conference room table to intercept a phone call that will expose her, that is if you don't count her wearing a miniskirt as exposure -- and Luke and Rebecca are on their way to falling in love.
It doesn't hurt that P.J. Hogan, who wrote and directed the devilishly subversive yet empathetic comedy "Muriel's Wedding" (1994) and returned with the over-the-top excess of "My Best Friend's Wedding" (1997), is in the director's chair. "Confessions" feels like he's having great fun staging the most outrageous bits whether we like them or not.
We had an early clue that Fisher might be good at physical comedy when she played the insane guerrilla girlfriend of Vince Vaughn's character in "Wedding Crashers." In "Confessions," Hogan has given her a much bigger stage, and Fisher proves she deserves it. Whether she's merely teetering down the street on impossibly high heels or spinning through a complicated tango wielding a lethal fan, there is an internal balance that provides a sort of grace note to all of the extremes she puts her body through -- that and the Rapunzel red tresses that bounce along behind her like a new puppy.
It's hard to play against the heat and charm of Fisher, and yet Dancy does quite nicely. He has a complexity about him that makes even characters like this one, in which his main task is to look great and seem sincere, more interesting. He even makes you forget that he looks like Hugh Grant and Colin Firth's love child.
There are definitely moments when the fun factor wilts -- including several with Goodman and Joan Cusack, who plays Rebecca's mother, and another involving tequila shots with Rebecca's best friend and roommate Suze, an otherwise delightfully eccentric Krysten Ritter -- as well as some other stumbles along the way as Rebecca goes from credit abuser to reformed buyer. And though you might wonder whether there's room in a movie marketplace that already feels overstocked with romantic comedies, "Confessions of a Shopaholic" arrives fashionably late and dressed to kill.