Three Comedies from Touchstone Pictures
Confessions of a Shopaholic (June 18/09)
Infused with a relentlessly slick sensibility, Confessions of a Shopaholic primarily comes off as a typically dumbed-down mainstream romantic comedy that seems to have been primarily geared towards indiscriminating teenagers - which is a shame, undoubtedly, given the presence of several top-notch performers within the cast (including John Lithgow, Kristin Scott Thomas, and John Goodman). The movie stars Isla Fisher as Rebecca Bloomwood, a magazine journalist whose addiction to shopping becomes increasingly problematic after she loses her job and her income dwindles to nothing. Through a series of misunderstandings, Rebecca quickly finds herself writing for a financial magazine under the leadership of a hunky editor/love interest (Hugh Dancy's Luke Brandon) and is eventually labeled a literary sensation after her first article becomes an unexpected smash - though Rebecca's notoriety is ultimately threatened by a tenacious bill collector bent on exposing her shameful secret. There's little doubt that Confessions of a Shopaholic possesses its share of admittedly charming moments - ie the ongoing banter between Rebecca and Luke is as adorably compelling as one might've hoped - yet it's just as clear that the movie suffers from an almost unbearably uneven sensibility that only grows more pronounced as it progresses. Screenwriters Tracey Jackson, Tim Firth, and Kayla Alpert - working from a series of books by Sophie Kinsella - place an continued emphasis on elements of a decidedly superfluous nature, with the most obvious example of this surely the aforementioned bill collector's efforts at publicly humiliating Rebecca. It's a subplot that seems to have been included merely to pave the way for an eye-rollingly melodramatic third act, which boasts not only a fake break-up between Rebecca and Luke but also a fake break-up between Rebecca and her best friend (Krysten Ritter's Suze)! Fisher's ingratiating performance is generally rendered moot as a result and it's subsequently hard to envision the movie holding any appeal for either the books' fans or newcomers to Kinsella's broadly-conceived universe, which is especially disappointing given director P.J. Hogan's previous successes within the romcom genre (ie 1994's Muriel's Wedding).
Starring Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds, The Proposal follows feared executive Margaret Tate (Bullock) as she bribes her assistant (Reynolds' Andrew Paxton) into marrying her after discovering that her work visa is about to expire (which would, of course, land her on the first plane back to her homeland of Canada). It's a promising set-up that's ultimately squandered by director Anne Fletcher and screenwriter Peter Chiarelli, as the movie suffers from a hopelessly overlong running time that's exacerbated by the inclusion of several entirely needless (and altogether unfunny) comedic set pieces. Fletcher's labored, downright desperate efforts at wringing laughs out of hopelessly stale material results in a series of entirely needless sequences - ie Bullock's character encounters an incompetent male stripper (Oscar Nunez's Ramone) - and it's subsequently not surprising to note that the film is at its best during its more overtly low-key moments. The affable chemistry between the two stars certainly goes a long way towards cultivating an atmosphere of watchable mediocrity, however, as both Bullock and Reynolds generally manage to rise above the material and create characters that wouldn't be entirely unwelcome within a better movie. And while it's hard to discount the efforts of a uniformly strong supporting cast (with Craig T. Nelson's work as Andrew's gruff father an obvious highlight), The Proposal's aggressively bloated sensibilities ensure that the movie's positive attributes - including an admittedly affecting conclusion - are finally rendered moot (ie the film is essentially a decent 80-minute romcom trapped within the confines of an oppressive 108-minute ordeal).
Armed with an irresistible premise and a seriously charismatic performance from star Kevin Costner, Swing Vote quickly establishes itself as a thoroughly affable piece of work that makes up in easy-going entertainment what it lacks in plausibility. The storyline details the chaos that ensues after a hotly-contested presidential election boils down to just one vote, as Costner's Bud Johnson - a likeable (if entirely irresponsible) everyman - is ultimately forced to choose between two (seemingly) deserving candidates (Kelsey Grammer's incumbent Andrew Boone and Dennis Hopper's Donald Greenleaf). Director Joshua Michael Stern - working from a script cowritten with Jason Richman - effectively compensates for the admittedly ridiculous nature of Swing Vote's set-up by establishing (and stressing) an impressive selection of wholly appealing characters, with Costner's effortlessly compelling work undoubtedly matched by a supporting cast that includes Nathan Lane, Stanley Tucci, and Paula Patton. Madeline Carroll's winning turn as Bud's precocious daughter ultimately stands as the film's most overtly positive attribute, as the young actress more than holds her own alongside her experienced costars and delivers a stirring performance that avoids cloying sentimentality at every turn. And although it clocks in at exactly two hours, Swing Vote's bloated running time doesn't become a problem until around the 90-minute mark - after which point Stern places a lamentable emphasis on elements of an overtly melodramatic nature. The movie recovers for an effective climax based around a stirring speech that Bud delivers before a worldwide audience, and while the conclusion that follows it does feel like something of a cop-out, Swing Vote's plethora of minor pleasures ensure that it finally comes off as an unabashedly old-fashioned bit of Capraesque entertainment.