With Mars Needs Moms, Disney and Robert Zemeckis [Monster House, Polar Express] team up to create a kind of CG/motion capture take on the family films that Disney did so well in the fifties and sixties [The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes] crossed with a bit of B-movie science fiction weirdness.
Even though it was filmed before the global economy went south, Confessions of a Shopaholic is – however accidentally – definitely a metaphor for the recession on a personal level – and Jerry Bruckheimer’s anti-Bruckheimer film [the only explosions are those of an emotional nature] is a solid romantic comedy that nears, but doesn’t quite reach, screwball proportions.
Rebecca Bloomwood [Isla Fisher] loves to shop. When she shops, the world seems better, brighter somehow. Unfortunately, that feeling wears off and she has to shop again. Her life becomes complicated by a series of events: she loses her job; someone named Derek Smeath [Robert Stanton] is hounding her for payment on one of her twelve credit cards]; and she has to, somehow, feign glee at the bridesmaid dress she must wear to her best friend and roommate’s wedding.
A chance encounter at a hot dog vendor gives her her first lesson in finance and features a “meet cute” with Luke Brandon [Hugh Dancy], who will turn out to be very important in her transformation from credit goose to worthwhile swan. Brandon’s Successful Saving magazine will be Rebecca’s first stop on the journey from unemployment to celebrated columnist for the ultimate fashion magazine, Alette. Surprisingly, she turns out to have a knack for putting financial concepts into metaphors that make the subject fun – boosting Successful Saving’s impact, prestige and [it would seem] circulation.
At first, nothing seems to be able to stop Rebecca from shopping – not even attending Shopaholics Anonymous meetings. Like the money men on Wall Street, who kept spending as indicators grew telling them to stop, Rebecca carries on – until she gets precisely what she deserves in the most inconvenient manner possible. It’s here that the metaphor splinters a bit – because, even as we wait for the Wall Street folks to become responsible, Rebecca does indeed learn her lesson [the hows and whys of which you will not learn here].
There are two main plotlines to Confessions: Rebecca’s having to deal with her finances and the girl-meets-boy, girl-screws-things-up-with-boy, girl-gets-boy plot. For Confessions, the surprises don’t arise from the results as much as they do from the events that take place along the way [as when Rebecca has to decide between a stylish dress for a TV appearance and her bridesmaid’s dress].
The script [by Tracey Jackson, Tim Firth and Kayla Alpert] is light and breezy, for the most part, but knows just when to hit an emotional note. P.J. Hogan’s [Muriel’s Wedding] direction is best described as deft. He has a good instinct not just for laughs, but for secondary and even tertiary bits that support rather than detract from the film – and he gets just the right performances from his cast.
Speaking of the cast: Isla Fisher is marvelous as Rebecca; Hugh Dancy is the second coming of Hugh Grant as Luke, and Krysten Ritter is delightfully odd as Rebecca’s best friend, Suze. John Goodman and Joan Cusack are equally terrific as Rebecca’s supportive parents, and the members of the Shopaholics Anonymous group more than hold up their sections of the film – especially ex-NBA star John Salley’s D. Freak, and Wendy Malik’s [Just Shoot Me] Miss Korch.
Confessions of a Shopaholic may have started out as a standard, if well done, romantic comedy but has become – however inadvertently – a metaphor. It succeeds on both levels. Admirably.