Chick-flick fans who go to Confessions of a Shopaholic just to follow girly-girl movie trends will find that they have stumbled into a strange, gregarious festivity. Australian director P.J. Hogan is one of the most original contemporary comic filmmakers—better than the chick-flick genre ever had. Despite the success of 1998’s Julia Roberts movie My Best Friend’s Wedding, Hogan’s 2006 credo movie Unconditional Love was never released here theatrically. But its scrutiny of camp—mixed with sincere levity—connected the emotional affinities of women and gay men like no other movie.
Hogan’s enchanted (not screwball) point of view would be recognized as a major vision if gay-themed movies weren’t subject to the mainstream’s pathological, intrinsically homophobic clichés (whether Brokeback Mountain or Milk). In Unconditional Love, Hogan correlated the desires and vulnerabilities common to women and men that are especially apparent in Confessions’ pixilated Shopaholics Anonymous scenes. Throughout, Hogan photographs his actors like Lubitsch did in Cluny Brown, bringing marvel and warmth to a goofy plot.
As Rebecca (Bex) Bloomwood in Confessions, Isla Fisher’s red mane and saucy smile makes her resemble an Ann-Margret kewpie doll. Her sexy perkiness smashes together materialism, a personal fashion sense, career ambition and eventually romance with her boss, magazine editor Luke Brandon (Hugh Dancey). Love is at the bottom of Bex’s priorities—shopping is No. 1—yet loving kindness is what redeems this quirky deadbeat’s personality. Stunned at Bex’s originality, Luke asks her: “Do you have a take on everything in life?”
That question gets at the meaning of sensibility, and it’s director Hogan’s sensibility that distinguishes Confessions. Bex may be spawn from the template of Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw—but this movie is not. Hogan looks beyond fashion, career and romance to enjoy his characters’ idiosyncrasies. Bex is like Carrie but politically conscious (when she can’t get a job at a fashion magazine she takes one at Successful Savings, a financial magazine, hoping to work her way up). Ever since Muriel’s Wedding, Hogan specializes in conflicted women learning to make do. His sensibility annihilates chick-flick condescension.
Hogan’s compassion keeps Confessions from recreating the horrors of consumerism and class snobbery that fooled Sex and the City hordes. Luke tells Bex, “Cost and worth are very different things.” You wouldn’t hear such a line from Mr. Big. You also wouldn’t see anything in other chick-flicks to match Hogan’s joyous stylized chorus line of talking mannequins or the way Bex’s signature green scarf first flutters in the camera, as if to tickle us with the silliness of luxe.
While Confessions suggests Bride Wars or The Devil Wears Prada done right (especially with Kristin Scott-Thomas’ diva/editrix performance poking fun at both her own cosmopolitanism), it’s still a minor film. Hogan hasn’t yet graduated to the budgets and creative freedom he deserves. Confessions’ plot confuses the amiabilities of so many subsidiary characters that its best moments lack the sheer wonder of Hogan’s best piece of enchantment, the eroticized 2005 feature Peter Pan. Hogan’s puckish way with pop tunes (“Rehab” as elevator muzak, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” as a ballad) should galvanize Bex’s story; instead it just seems kooky. If female and male moviegoers are lucky, Hogan will deliver on that enchanted modern world he promises.
Confessions of a Shopaholic
Directed by P.J. Hogan
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