Knight at the Movies Archives
Isla Fisher does her best with a shopworn, shopped out premise, Jay McCarroll is surprisingly endearing in a familiar fashion doc
It’s fashion week at the movies with the designer clothing extravaganza Confessions of a Shopaholic already in theatres, Eleven
Minutes, the documentary that follows season one “Project Runway” winner Jay McCarroll as he prepares his first collection playing on
Here! TV exclusively this Friday and an auction of one of Sean Penn’s Milk costumes now underway (read on for further details). All
this, of course, topped off by a host of celebrities walking the red carpet at this Sunday’s Oscar awards aka the film world’s biggest
fashion parade aka the gay man’s national holiday. In the midst of a big fat recession, the fashion industry must be on Cloud Nine
with this kind of media attention.
Let’s try on Confessions of a Shopaholic for size first. The movie’s set in Manhattan and follows the exploits of a fashion mad
young lady journalist who dreams of working at the world’s top fashion magazine. Sounds sorta like an episode of “Ugly Betty”
meets The Devil Wears Prada meets Sex & the City right? Not surprisingly, Confessions has plot strands from those three sources,
shares the same costume designer (the magenta haired Patricia Field who has a nice cottage industry going for herself), and was
also based on a chick-lit bestseller.
But in place of feisty Sarah Jessica Parker-Anne Hathaway-America Ferrera or even Reese Witherspoon in the two Legally Blonde
pictures, Confessions gives us a dumb dumb leading lady, one Rebecca Bloomwood. Rebecca’s personal credo is “A man will never
treat you as well as a store” and she’s charged enough clothes to bury herself in an avalanche of bills. She’s not a hoarder of
cartons of toilet paper or someone who must have the latest household gadget like the rolling Amish fireplace or the Clapper – she’s
only a shopaholic when it comes to clothes and fashion accessories (she loves fashion the way I love movies).
Rebecca’s played by Isla Fisher (who is easily confused with Amy Adams – Isla’s the one who’s engaged to Sacha Baron Cohen), a
talented comedic actress who could have used fresher material. Much fresher. Is there a gay character making snarky comments
and swooning over something with a designer label? Check. Is there a dreamboat patiently standing by? Check (this one played
by diminutive Hugh Dancy). Are there a host of eccentric supporting characters played by top drawer actors? Check (Joan Cusack,
John Goodman, Julie Hagerty, John Lithgow, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lynn Redgrave, etc.). Will our heroine be forced to examine her
values and perhaps choose between fashion and love or maybe, just maybe get to keep both? Check.
Confessions suffers from these and other familiar conceits and because it comes so closely on the heels of these other fashion mad
movies it seems but a pale imitation (at best) of those that have stalked the catwalk ahead of it. Director P.J. Hogan, who hasn’t
had much luck at the box office since 1997 My Best Friend’s Wedding (though his 2002 film Unconventional Love with Kathy Bates and
Rupert Everett is worth a look) does his best with the tissue thin material and finds some originality here and there (the store window
mannequins beckoning to the leading lady for example) but the movie’s “fashion is all” mantra has worn as thin as a sheer negligee
– one can see right through this nonsense and the body underneath, while not quite anorexic, certainly could use some sustenance.
Confessions of a Shopaholic is about as fresh as that shop worn metaphor.
Eleven Minutes, which follows the creation of gay designer Jay McCarroll’s debut collection for New York’s fashion week in the
summer of 2007 isn’t all that fresh either. In many ways the film which follows McCarroll, forever identified as the first season winner
of the “Project Runway” reality show, is simply a poor man’s version of Unzipped, the 1995 documentary that focused on Isaac Mizrahi
as he got his all important collection ready. Both designers (and films) focus on their subjects as they go about the business of
creating a saleable collection on a deadline. But though both have a tendency to kvetch (Mizrahi, big time), McCarroll doesn’t have
a tenth of the resources that Mizrahi did which makes Eleven Minutes (the title refers to the length of the runway presentation that
comes after a year of preparation) much more compelling and entertaining.
Forced to rely on his talents and the kindness of friends and strangers who share his vision (some, hoping to cash in along with
him), McCarroll’s personality comes front and center. Droll and funny, sometimes bitchy, he’s not as testy; he’s more down to earth
and doesn’t display the diva-like behavior his advance press would have one believe. McCarroll is joined in his quest by a batch of
creative kindred spirits – a jewelry designer, a tough but valued publicist, and a shoe maker who gives new meaning (and anxiety) to
the word “deadline.” There’s a real, “hey kids, let’s put on a show!” air to the film (co-directed by Michael Selditch and Robert Tate)
that is quite winning.
Eleven Minutes offers a great primer on the large pitfalls and transitory triumphs of New York’s fashion business and has a great
subject in the tenacious and very talented McCarroll. The movie premiered in Chicago last fall at the Reeling film fest (with McCaroll
in attendance) and has been playing theatrical dates around the country though Chicago hasn’t been scheduled yet. But the film
can be seen exclusively on Here! TV on Friday, February 20th and will no doubt end up on DVD at some latter date.
More fashion: A shirt, suit and tie designed by Danny Glicker and worn by Sean Penn in the title role in Milk, Gus Van Sant’s
tremendous biopic of slain gay civil rights activist Harvey Milk is being auctioned off for a host of charities including the Hetrick-Martin
Institute, home of the Harvey Milk High School in New York City. The auction is underway at www.clothesoffourback.org (bidding is at
$4,500 as I write this) and concludes on February 28th.
Take Your Fashion And Make It Happen:
Confessions of a Shopaholic-Eleven Minutes
2-18-09 Windy City Times KATM Column
By Richard Knight, Jr.