Isla Fisher plays Rebecca Bloomwood, the title character in Confessions of a Shopaholic, as a woman whose hand-eye coordination works at top speed only when she's grabbing for a sale item. The funny idea behind her performance is that she's so distracted by hot dreams of buying stylish goods for bargain prices that she can't keep brain and body working together.
You never believe, even in a fantasy way, that Bloomwood could stumble into a job at a Manhattan-based financial magazine for a Conde Nast-like conglomerate. It's even less plausible that she would gain instant fame as "The Girl in the Green Scarf" by using clothing metaphors to illuminate concepts such as "cost vs. worth."
Yet you root for her anyway, because Fisher provides the bits of humor scattered throughout this movie. She simultaneously twists and bobs her head as if that would help her see the price tag she has left on the frame of the glasses she buys just to look smart. She crawls on top of a boardroom table and can't get traction on the varnished surface with her knees.
Vocally, too, she manages to wring some chuckles, especially when she burps out Freudian slips or emits inadvertent bleats, coos and burbles. When her dreamy editor, Luke Brandon (Hugh Dancy), catches her using a search engine to shortcut an assignment, she fills the words "I Googled" with little-girl guilt. Of course, he finds her sexy even when she's shameful.
The prominence of Dancy as that manly, graceful workaholic Brandon - he's this film's Colin Firth (or is it Hugh Grant?) - should reassure fans of silly romantic comedies that this film is less about such dreaded topics as credit card slavery than it is about reeling in Mr. Right without really trying. In this adaptation of Sophie Kinsella's London-set novel of the same name (and a later one, Shopaholic Takes Manhattan), Bloomwood's addiction to shopping is like Bridget Jones' weight and self-doubt: part of the pupa she must shed to become a glittering butterfly.
The director, P.J. Hogan, and the screenwriters, Tracey Jackson, Tim Firth and Kayla Alpert, Americanize the material and make it as cartoonish as possible. In another movie, hearing our heroine declare, "My name is Rebecca Bloomwood, and I'm a shopaholic" and seeing her join Shopaholics Anonymous might have been hilarious. But here, it's one more in a bunch of people who seem to shout out their name and function as soon as they appear on screen.
Kristin Scott Thomas is so predictably haughty as the editor of a haute couture magazine that she might as well exclaim, "I'm Alette Naylor, and I'm a fashion diva!" At the other end of the socio-economic scale, John Goodman and Joan Cusack, as Bloomwood's parents, might declare,"Hi, we're Jane and Graham Bloomwood, and we're the salt of the earth."
Krysten Ritter unleashes powerful feelings of sorority as Bloomwood's best friend and roommate, and it's heartening to see Julie Hagerty of Airplane ! back on screen as Brandon's risibly diffident executive assistant.
But the plot device of a Javert-like debt collector (Robert Stanton) doesn't work. Bloomwood and Brandon grow so close so fast, you wonder why she doesn't just ask him for a loan.
In this movie, though, a writer files a piece at night, and within hours it's on the pages of a slick magazine. The problem with Confessions of a Shopaholic isn't conspicuous consumption. It's ostentatious idiocy.
Confessions of a Shopaholic
(Touchstone Pictures) Starring Isla Fisher, Hugh Dancy, Joan Cusack. Directed by P.J. Hogan. Rated PG for some mild language. Time 112 minutes.