‘Are you serious?’ my son exclaimed as he pried open my Amazon package.
‘It’s just a filler to make up the amount for free shipping,’ I said. (Didn’t he know it was for his CD that I had to make this purchase in the first place?)
Ok, after reading Thomas Hardy, Jhumpa Lahiri, Philip Roth, not to mention the very hard-to-get-through Amy Bloom, all in a month’s time, I needed a break. A break it is.
The book Confessions of a Shopaholic is like a commercial break: it gives you a chance to relax in between tense moments, a filler, but unlike most commercials, it’s entertaining, very funny, and not as dismissible as it looks. (To my copy-writer friend: Nothing personal, it’s just the genre.)
I’d many LOL moments, and several times I caught myself reading with a smile on my face. How many books have you read that can elicit that facial response? Not that I looked at the mirror while I read, but I just noticed.
I learned a long time ago that the best kind of humor is the self-deprecating kind. Kinsella’s Shopaholic series just might have extended that axiom to include her own gender. But why not, Jane Austen did that too, plus the other gender along the way. And that reminds me, reading Shopaholic conjures up images of Bridget Jone’s Diary, which in turn, and remotely, suggests certain Austen-esque styling.
Rebecca Bloomwood is a twenty-five year old college grad lucky enough to have launched a job as a financial journalist at Successful Saving. A whole new world opens up to her as she gets her VISA card and automatically given an overdraft limit at her bank. Loaded with such financial ammunition, Becky plunges right into the swirl of brandname fashion and all other fancy stuff a gal just got to have. After all, they’re all an investment to her, and shopping just seems to be the ideal workout. How can she keep fit just sitting at home?
“They should list shopping as a cardiovascular activity. My heart never beats as fast as it does when I see a ‘reduced by 50%’ sign.”
In no time, Becky Bloomwood the financial journalist has sunk deep in debt. The irony becomes more acute when she is invited to appear on TV as an adviser on personal finance management.
Kinsella has crafted a modern day satire on the female psyche vis-a-vis consumerism. Ok, some female psyche… not all. Her sharp observation of human nature, and spot-on nuances on both genders, together with the generous unleashing of self-deprecating humor, effectively mask the didactic end of Shopaholic. The book might have delivered the message for us all in today’s slumping economy. It has unwittingly (or perhaps wittingly) depicted some of the causes of such a major breakdown in our financial system: the allure of credits, the insatiable quest for posession, the deception of desire over need, and the tyranny of brandname consumerism.
The author has effectively created a comic caricature. Rebecca is an addict in denial, but she’s amiable nonetheless. We laugh at her flaws and errors because we can sympathize with her predicament, or maybe even identify with some of her weaknesses. The book is almost script-ready, it has the funny dialogues, the colorful characters, the dramatic elements. Although the story doesn’t get fired up until the last hundred pages, it’s an enjoyable read overall.
And for the movie, well, the movie is a different matter.
Australian director P.J. Hogan (My Best Friend’s Wedding, 1997) has wasted some highly workable comedic materials, and a talented supporting cast like Kristin Scott Thomas, Joan Cusack, John Lithgow, and John Goodman. He has reduced a pleasing, humorous, and relatively intelligent book into a slapstick, patchy, and mindless farce. LOL response in the theatre was almost nil, because the script is simply flat and not funny, despite the earnest attempt of the cast. Isla Fisher (Definitely Maybe, 2008) has downgraded Becky Bloomwood into a stereotypical, silly female wrapped in pink; Hugh Dancy (The Jane Austen Book Club, 2007), who plays her boss and later love interest, seems too constrained to be effective. The movie simply epitomizes and confirms the bad rap ‘chick flicks’ are getting.
Throughout, I’ve the feeling that I’m watching the sequel of The Devil Wears Prada (2006) but without its depth of characterization, and Becky Bloomwood is the dumbed down version of Elle Woods in Legally Blonde (2001)… alas, a pitiful rendition of Pretty In Pink (1986). What it lacks in brain it rescues itself with a little heart in the latter part. But the fond feeling comes too little too late.
And I can’t help myself but to ask if the movie was directed by a female, would it be quite different. But then I’d be stereotyping.