Lippert’s Critique: 2 Thumbs Down

Leaving the theater after a recent showing of Confessions of a Shopaholic — starring Isla Fisher, a delightful actress — I overhead snippets of conversations among several sets of twentysomethings who were likewise exiting the show.

“I liked her hair better curly,” one was saying about Fisher’s photogenic tresses. Her friend agreed, saying she didn’t like the blow-dry she sported later on in the film.

Meanwhile, another set of friends was summing up the movie. “Yeah, you make the ringlets by using a curling iron,” said one moviegoer, and her girlfriends nodded knowingly.

I couldn’t fault them for their focus — there was not much else to analyze.

And that made me sad, because it’s just one of the current movies filled with interesting actresses who would have meatier roles in a Pantene commercial. (At least a commercial is honest work.) The desperate babe role isn’t new, of course, but it seems like such of waste of talent.

In Confessions, Fisher’s part is written as even less than a babe — she’s a clothes hanger with shiny hair. Yes, the title alone screams “chick flick.”

But Confessions, taken from a series of best-selling books by Sophie Kinsella, was so weightless, so inane, so lacking in discussable plot or characters, that it made Legally Blonde seem like In the Heat of the Night and puts The Devil Wears Prada up there with To Kill a Mockingbird.

You have to love Fisher, who is a great comic actress — a cross between Bernadette Peters and Lucille Ball, with the looks of Ann-Margret. As Rebecca Bloomwood, she does her damnedest on screen with a hollow script that at its height is as good as Ugly Betty on an off day.

Fisher was so great in Wedding Crashers, after all, playing the wild, sex-crazed sister. You’d think that in the middle of a worldwide economic crisis, a leading role about a compulsive shopper who happens to be a financial journalist would offer more depth than the bridesmaid who takes Vince Vaughn into the bathroom.

But the irony of the overspending angle was so dumbed down it was non-existent. Fisher’s character is like a cat, attracted to all things glittery. (And the kandy-kolored confections that she wears really teetered on the clown side.)

There was no attempt to get into the meaning or value of material stuff, and certainly we never get the idea that a financial journalist should deny herself anything. Instead, there’s a cartoon fight between Bloomwood’s overly accessorized self and an evil debt collector who looks like he slithered out of a silent movie after tying some poor maiden to the railroad tracks.

Granted, Confessions was produced before the worst of the economic storm hit. Still, the idea of paying off huge amounts of debt — for men or women — resonates at any time, and could have been the perfect model for the moment. But there’s nothing in the film to hang a financial lesson on — unless it’s Fisher’s Rapunzel-like hair.

The publishing side of the story is so dated and preposterous it seems to have come out of a pink, bedazzled typewriter. (The writer puts this line in the mouth of the publisher, played grimly by Fred Armisen: “The bottom line is advertising revenue!”)

Bloomwood writes a column with a fashion metaphor, which wins the acclaim of the international finance world (“We’ve gone international!” says one staffer. Apparently he’s never heard of the World Wide Web) and is fawned over by her colleagues. So successful is this one column that the arrogant faux French (but not Prada-sporting) editor of a Vogue-like magazine personally takes Bloomwood shopping for her TV appearance. (This detail stands out among the other things that strained credulity about the publishing world. Since when does a fashion editor go shopping? She has stuff sent to her office.)

Ultimately, Confessions is simply a timeworn set-up for Cinderella to meet her prince, Hugh Dancy, the editor with endless patience, Oh, and he has a pedigree, too — he’s from a rich family. (The guy speaks Prada!)

Another derivative chick flick that undermines its own premise is He’s Just Not That Into You, from two of the writers of Sex in the City. (The more I think about Sex in hindsight, the more I dislike it. It’s ostensibly about friendship, but the women are not actually very sisterly. But maybe that’s because the very disappointing movie version squandered the characters developed by the TV show.)

The Just Not Into You theory comes right out of an episode of SITC, and was later developed into a best-selling book. It’s simplistic and cruel, if not misogynistic. In the movie, Justin Long — the Mac guy from Apple’s ads — explains it to Ginnifer Goodwin, who plays a poignant cyber-stalker in a long line of desperate, delusional women the film puts on parade.

He does tell her one thing that makes sense: that all those cheer-up stories girlfriends tell each other, like, “I have a cousin who got married after living with the guy for 22 years!” are the exception, not the rule.

That’s true. While the film isn’t nearly as bad as Confessions, it’s still somewhat mean spirited. The men and women are on different planets. There are few who seem to truly like each other here. Scarlett Johansson is outright lusted after by dint of her luscious body. She targets a married man, and we get to watch him grope her in his office. When his wife, played by Jennifer Connelly, who is made to seem cold and bitchy because they’re renovating a townhouse, shows up at work, Johansson’s character is exiled to a closet and has to listen to them having make-up sex. Regardless, the affair breaks up his union. And Johansson receives a Scarlett Letter of sorts, exiled to India for her sins, while the husband (Bradley Cooper) seems thrilled to be liberated of the “old ball and chain.”

But in an attempt to be more PC and less sexist (Drew Barrymore was one of the producers, after all!), the basic thesis is reversed by the end of the film, and Long’s character — who in the beginning says things like, “I thought I was in love but then I saw her ass in daylight” — morphs from a callow jerk into a sweet, devoted boyfriend. And Ben Affleck — whose character never wanted to marry Jennifer Aniston — is doing dishes and proposing.

Never mind the pointlessly sappy Hollywood ending. Here again, the film is an obvious waste of the talents of Goodwin, who, ironically, gets to stretch much more in her role as Margene, a child bride and third sister-wife on Big Love. (In terms of fully realized female characters in films these days, it’s so bad that Marisa Tomei — appearing as a single mom by day/pole dancer by night in The Wrestler) — comes off as some kind of women’s advocate.)

Of course, there have always been stupid movies, and even Thelma and Louise had to die in a suicidal crash to get their semi-feminist points across.

Maybe we should chalk it up to the need for fantasy in a Depression, but neither Confessions of a Shophalic nor He’s Just Not That Into You offers a decent escape.