RIORI Presents Installment #202: PJ Hogan’s “Confessions Of A Shopaholic” (2009)

The Film…

The Players…

Isla Fisher, Hugh Dancy, Kristen Scott Thomas, Krysten Ritter, Fred Armisen, Leslie Bibb and Julie Hagarty, with John Lithgow, Joan Cusack and John Goodman.

The Plot…

You ever hear the expression “the clothing makes the man?” Sure you have. Whereas that little maxim is suggesting dressing sharp leads to a good impression for guy, no one can hold a candle to Becca’s mission of leading the ultimate impression. If only for her own self-image. To herself. And her alone.

Becca has overextended her many lines of credit so far as to reach the moon. One of Saturn’s many moons, to be frank. Her freewheeling spending on high end fashion has landed her into spiraling credit card debt, and no amount of a windfall is going to help her out.

Save a mismatched résumé landing her a writer job for the preeminent money magazine Successful Savings. Opposites always attract I suppose.

Let’s give Becca just a little credit for now, huh?

The Rant…

Years back I had tuned into one of the few TV shows I never missed. This was before streaming, BTW. It was the “fan favorite” ep of the Travel Channel’s No Reservations hosted by snarky chef turned snarky writer turned snarky world traveler the late Anthony Bourdain. The fan fave thing was (I think) devised for figuring out what Tony’s next destination would be and suggested by—you guessed it—an ardent fan of the show. The final selection was based on a sort of Tinder-style video from a local pitching the whys and why nots of coming out for a visit, then the select few earned an up close and personal meet-and-greet with Bourdain himself. To size up the lucky chosen few. Kinda like the American Idol finals but not dumb. Okay, not outright dumb. You need the see the episode to get it and shudder quietly.

Cutting to the chase the winner was one Danya Alhamrani from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. She’s an esteemed filmmaker and her hometown is the Chicago of Saudi Arabia. The next most populous city after the capital Riyadh, but more colorful. Her pitch was to dispel any preconceived notions about the Arabian folks to us Yanks. Turned out that Jeddah is Saudi Arabia’s second largest city as well the major port city. It’s a hopping metropolis that happily sits on the Red Sea just west of Mecca. Yes, that Mecca, deep in the Muslim world and all the culture to soak up as time allowed. Selling point that. Bourdain felt it would be cool, eye-opening experience to visit so off went the No Reservations crew to check out Danya’s stomping grounds. Maybe the wheels were greased by Danya being very charming and very cute. Maybe her somewhat ulterior motives. Just sayin’. Off to Arabia!

Danya took Tony by the hand. She brought him into her home to meet the hubs. Had breakfast at the local farmers’ market, went swimming around the local coral reef and showed how she did underwater photography (as well as how to spear fresh fish). Had lunch at the local Saudi version of KFC, still a family-run franchise no less. Later on a camel BBQ showed no mercy, followed up with an improv desert rally with all kinds of 4x4s tearing up the dunes. Jeddah proved to have something for everyone.

One of the more notable segments from the show was when Danya was considering the proper garb for her benefactor. They went out and purchased a thobe for Tony, a sailcloth-like robe made of thin white billowing fabric perfect for the hot Arabian days with a tasteful white cap to protect the head. Bourdain’s wry voiceover commented to the effect it didn’t seem fair for Saudi women had to wear those stuffy black burqas in the desert heat. There was also a comment from Danya about how despite “progressive” the style was regarding her burqa wearing it was still a heated affair, so to speak. Sure, her outfit wasn’t the stereotypical head-to-toe black cloak us Westerners are used to seeing on the TV, but such propriety demands in a Muslim nation and not a lot of concessions were given. When in Rome I guess.

Later Tony and Danya found themselves cruising an upscale mall. Very upscale. Very. Like you could not shop there. Fashion boutiques everywhere aimed at well-heeled ladies. Bourdain commented on his familiarity with “blue state beauty,” in which the pretty few are just out there to gawk over. Saudi women conceal themselves under their burqa to “disguise their beauty” Danya implied. Kinda like camo shellacked with foundation for the blind to appreciate, so says a Yank.

“Underneath, we’re all like that.” Danya pointed to the Saudi equivalent of a Frederick’s Of Riyadh window display. A pair of burqa clad women were pointing at the mannequins dressed in Prada fashions. “See the stilettos?” Danya said as the camera spied some very pricey pumps the girls sported. That cloak can’t cover up everything.

“The competition must be brutal!” Bourdain squawked. “It’s all about ‘in your face, bitch?'” Regardless of the head-to-toe appearance, it suggested that most Saudi women were dressed to the nines underneath that black shadow. Once at home, away from public scrutiny off come the burqas and onto the runway. Something like that.

Now why on Earth am I sharing this story? It’ll soon come to light as it relates to this week’s movie. Patience, Grasshopper.

You ever hear that old maxim, “Clothing makes the man?” There’s a corollary to that adage, namely “Clothing is the woman.” Or rather fashion is. Allow me to indulge.

Sure, guys want to wear nice clothes as much as women would (depending on the occasion, natch), but I feel that there is a line of demarcation that cannot be crossed regarding the likes of Ralph Lauren vs Vera Wang. I don’t know if women have a favorite t-shirt, but men do and they’re all identical and every stain has a story (of which you do not want to hear). Guys like their wardrobe comfy, threadbare and just the right amount of sh*tty unless it’s a job interview, marriage or some significant religious holiday like Easter or St Patrick’s Day.

Okay, now the following may come across as sexist. Probably because it is. However to deny the facts that men and women view fashion differently is akin to adopting a parental Karen stance that is utterly convinced her spawn are snowflake prodigies no matter what their grades say and they still eat paste in the 7th grade. And require inordinate daily doses of prune juice. There are more than more genders than there are genomes!

Right. Silly. But women are different, especially regarding their garb and its purposes. How are their sensibilities different from the average dude? For instance women have an actual wardrobe to hang stuff, if not an actual closet. A walk-in closet for more enterprising females. If you doubt me check out any program on HDTV. Guys usually have only two options: a pair of laundry baskets for the dirty and the less dirty. Sometimes a gift card from J Crew may tip the scales. Another truth is that the fashion industry isn’t really that interested in all things testosterone. It’s understood that fashion galas use the runway more as an easel for whatever canvas created to drape over a model who may desperately need a sandwich. Men’s upscale fashions are usually just the same cloth wrapped in a different mold. Check out any mens’ magazine, from Maxim to CQ. Guys get the short shrift regarding innovation in fashion; another sleek suit, the hardscrabble look for the LL Bean hiker fan, pro sport jerseys and Target’s limitless vault of graphic tees from The Avengers to zodiac signs. What the heck is thread count anyway?

Men like it simple, because that’s all we’ve been offered. And that’s okay. That’s how guys are. Let the clothing make the man, be it a model or a dad. This is why most guys ask their girls when shopping, “Honey, do I like this?”

The known constant that the human male does not know how to dress up without the female input is an affront to nature when you consider it. In the wild it’s the males’ duty to display flash and dash to attract a mate (EG: peacocks unfurled, crows offering gifts, rams…ramming, etc). From what I’ve seen the guys with money are the ultimate catch, and wearing sporty duds is just a billboard. Speaking for most guys all we need is a beater tee shirt and well-worn frayed jeans. Sometimes sweats when we catch cold/are hungover. For dudes fashion is barely an afterthought.

Not so with the fairer sex. I’m not sure if it’s cultural expectations, the need to make a statement in society without shouting or just a love of color (maybe all three). Which is why there is that pesky, endearing feminine mystique.

Quick: name five male supermodels. I’ll wait…


Sorry, Brad Pitt doesn’t count. His one time pushing Pringle’s does not a modeling CV make. As you may I can easily name five (if not 10) supermodels in a single breath. They’re all females, BTW, which is a weird thing. As I implied this goes against nature.

I’m not going to do that. To do so would belittle both sexes about what fashion means to them. All in all it’s personal preference, which is always subjective. I’ve been wearing black tee shirts and beater jeans ever since the Dubya administration. In college I preferred “mod” styles and big jeans. In high school I was buttoned down. In junior high…um, tee shirts and practical cut jeans from JC Penney. It all worked for me. It was fashion, and it fit the bill for the time. It was never like my sisters’ rotating circus of clothes, since women’s fashion trend change accordingly with the movement of the sun.

After all this babble I suppose I’ll never truly understand what fashion means to women. Perhaps I’m not supposed to, since “clothes make the man” is an open and shut case. Is “fashion the woman?” Do men only care about their outfits when the women are present? Considering public courtesy according to Danya:

“Do men behave badly? They do!”

I guess it’s why us guys need a snootful of style from out friendly female fashionistas. And what is it with those high heels?


The Story…

Rebecca (Fisher) is a dyed-in-wool, self-appointed gatekeeper of fashion. She knows what the hot fashion trend is before its launched. She always on the prowl at the mall for the “so choice” accessory, be it purse, belt or scarf. And her maxed out credit card debt could fund NASA’s experiment flight to Venus. You know, the planet named after the goddess of beauty?

Well if Becca were a goddess the good things in life would come easily. Despite her posh wardrobe and entraining the fallacy that she’s gonna be the 21st Century’s version of Niki Taylor, she better come to terms with her excessive spending, being sort of a burden on her bestie/roomie’s Suze’s (Ritter) couch and budget as well as barely reaching the brass ring as writer for her fave shopping mag. Working part-time at Wendy’s would do wonders for Becca’s finances. But…

Since Suze is looking for a better job and encourages Becca to try the same, a classic case of “mistaken identity” ensues. Thanks to a little hubris and more than a little tequila, the pair accidentally mail each other’s résumé to the job of their dreams; Suze to Becca’s fashion rag. Becca to Suze’s ideal financial advice magazine. And good news! They both get hired!

But what does Becca know about investing in anything save Macy’s?

And what does Suze know about green scarves?

In a word: nothing. Which is how writing legends are borne.

Now what’s this about a 3-day sale at Nordstrom’s…?

The Review…

This is gonna be a short one. The shortest since yesteryear’s Project X disgrace. Look, it’s no shocker that I’m fussy about my rom-coms. They gotta be witty, well-written and sweet. Not dopey, formulaic and sappy, which is the going rate for the majority of the rom-coms chumming the cinematic waters for the past God knows how many years. Big and small screens alike.

As I have said I have clutch of rom-coms that are required watching. Breakfast At Tiffany’s, Pretty Woman, As Good As It Gets, The Graduate (those 2 being rom-com of errors), Notting Hill and anything that has a clever twist to keep things lively and unexpected. A good script is a must, as well as a willing cast and knowing director. To me most rom-coms these days are ultra-predictable, retreads of fluffiness right on point. Consider the pre-req side boob shot to guarantee an edgy PG-13 rating (because an R would hurt ticket sales). We’ve been here before.

With Confessions I kept waiting for the humor to begin. And waited. And waited for some kind of sign from above. Good thing that I’m not a praying man, for if I was Audrey Hepburn would’ve made a cameo from the grave and clotheslined Ms Borat into submission.

Confessions was weak, rote, predictable and f*cking boilerplate like most of Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic scribblings (I read one. Don’t ask). The Looney Tune humor, the junior high sexual awkwardness, the cleavage, it’s all present and accounted for with Confessions. It’s all one note. Charm in overdrive with no brakes. This movie is provo-TikTok flagellation. It kinda makes sense how Becca sucks at financial restraint and ends up at “Successful Savings” with her magical Anglo/romantic interest at her side. Hallmark Channel! Quit drilling, we’ve struck oil!

In all fairness, Confessionslike most rom-coms—does have a few charms, if few and far between. If I were to rail against everything I saw here it would be a very paltry blog indeed with nary a Tweet in sight. Still today, this is gonna be a short one for a very unique reason. And not because Confessions was predictable, pandering, mid-budget slog. No. It was a missed opportunity, which Kinsella’s book politely prodded. Again, don’t ask. I read The Joy Luck Club at my grandma’s recommendation. It was for Grammy. Check out my new black tee!

Confessions wasted an opportunity on being an open letter. I read Kinsella’s book (again, don’t ask) and her very personal, novelized life story gave some insight into how one decides upon conspicuous consumption as a lifestyle choice. Considering that the USA is overloaded with stuff attached to multitudes of folks who identify themselves with not only their fashion sense/social scenes—from emo kids to MAGA trucker hats—director missed an ideal tableau to raise a noise. Perhaps a real funny noise/social commentary if Fisher didn’t portray some daffy little girl in the big city trope, but rather was allowed to show some sass and savvy as in Wedding Crashers and Now You See MeSelf-aware comedy demands some serious acting chops, for the antagonist must be whip-smart at coming across as funny without acting funny. Fisher’s good at this, and her keen talent was utterly wasted here. As well as prime cut to what Kinsella was on about made for the big screen. I figure that kind of heady sh*t don’t sell tickets in Columbus.

Confessions was decidedly middling and a wasted opportunity. A shame. If you ask me, rom-coms can and should appeal to both sexes and not just the Carrie Bradshaw otaku who claim to identify with that quartet when in fact is was just wish-fulfillment/living vicariously thru streaming.

A final note, and back to Jeddeh: Tony and Tanya were enjoying a fried chicken lunch when Bourdain commented on the layout of the restaurant. Saudi Arabia being a Muslim country the dining room was laid out in two parts: an open area for the men and enclosed booths for families and friends. I was expecting Tony’s wry wit to take hold of Danya asking what she though of this setup. It would be outright sexist in America if McDonald’s divided their dining area in twain along genders. I wanna sit where I wanna becuz I wanna!

Danya honestly surprised Bourdain with her frank response. She always figured the single men were the segregated ones while the women got to eat with friends, family, Tony or whomever they felt like eating with.

In sum rom-com filmmakers, don’t hedge your bets and alienate half of a potential audience. We guys like going shopping for nice duds also. So long as we have a savvy female leading the way.

The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Relent it. Watch this with both fingers crossed and you will still be let down thanks to the Joyce Hall bloodline. Felt so bad for Fisher.

The Musings

  • Was this movie funded by Etsy?
  • “Cost and worth are very different things.”
  • All glass doors deserve a head bonk in every rom-com.
  • “They said I was a valued customer. Now they send me hate mail.”
  • Joan Cusack is that old now? And what kind of movie would John Goodman not be in at his whatever age?
  • “We get it. Now go away.”
  • K: Pencil sharpening facepalm.
  • WTF Finland?
  • “You speak Prada?”

The Next Time…

Good news! Turns out Bruce Dern lucked out and won a contest! Bad news? It demands many a mile to ford—with Will Forte in tow—to claim the prize.

Road trip! Off to Nebraska!