Is the current economic climate going to hurt Confessions of a Shopaholic at the box office?

Bad Time for 'Confessions'

on February 11, 2009 by Eric Brach
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As 2009 gets underway, America finds itself in its greatest economic slide since the Great Depression. According to the credit-reporting agency Experian, our nation’s credit card debit has grown by more than 50% since the beginning of the millennium, and the average cardholding American finds him or herself more than $16,000 in debt.

Hardly a welcoming atmosphere for messages of conspicuous consumption. But it is in this very torrid economic climate that Confessions of a Shopaholic, the spending-happy fluff comedy starring Wedding Crashers scene-stealer Isla Fisher, is slated to open this weekend.

While it won't be a total box office dud, it seems likely that Shopaholic will face lower-than-expected numbers at the box office, given the current sentiment of America’s moviegoing public.

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January was a record month for the film industry, with the unexpected hit Paul Blart: Mall Cop leading the way with nearly $100 million in receipts to date. Plus, the action film Taken opened with a $25 million weekend, and it has already grossed over $50 million in the U.S. alone. But Blart was light, escapist humor, and Taken provides a heaping chunk of action, both of which tend to do especially well in tough times. Shopaholic, on the other hand, is a designer label-fueled spend fast, a forced romp through the aisles in which Fisher’s titular character cavorts through malls, racking up an unpayable bill totaling thousands of dollars. This may have seemed palatable enough when the economy was still soaring, but given America’s trillion-dollar mortgage debt and looming home foreclosures, can it really still draw crowds?

The film’s backers seem to think so. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer – he of Pirates of the Caribbean, National Treasure, and Black Hawk Down – was quoted as saying, “the timing for this couldn’t be better.”

Indeed, the ancillary market seems to think so as well, or at least is willing to fake it. Online retailer Bluefly.com, an apparel sales website, has agreed to play host to the online presence of Shopaholic, and has even gone so far as to offer a shopping experience inspired directly by the film. “The 'Rebecca’s Closet – Get That Look' feature allows users to explore the unique fashions created for the film,” touts their press release, “instantly shop for similar clothing and accessories within the Bluefly store."

Such enthusiasm is enticing. However, Bluefly has lost nearly 70% of its share value in the past four months, and unbiased analysts seem to think that Shopaholic has little chance of escaping the changed economic landscape unscathed.

“There is an anti-bling thing going on,” quipped Marian Salzman, chief marketing officer of Porter Novelli, a firm that specializes in marketing and PR for consumer goods companies.

"If it's a light romcom -- the box office will be dismal. [But] if it's about her being punished, they [audiences] might enjoy the schadenfreude," Megan McArdle, a business blogger for The Atlantic, told B OXOFFICE.

"For some people, the downscaling has more to do with a changing definition of cool than with budgeting,” wrote Kimberly Palmer in U.S. News & World Report. “The summer blockbuster movie WALL-E depict[ed] a future world where spending and waste have spiraled so out of control that the Earth becomes a giant landfill.” WALL-E grossed over $200 million domestically, and over $500 million worldwide – clearly, that message struck a chord with moviegoers. What does that say for Shopaholic, a movie that delights in thousand-dollar shoes and shopping sprees? Even if the lesson of the film may be for us as a nation to stop our superfluous spending, the trailers make Shopaholic seem like Sex and the City with more shopping.

As it stands, Shopaholic opens this weekend against two potent competitors: Friday the 13th and The International. Friday represents a new take on a proven franchise, and International pits established stars Clive Owen and Naomi Watts against a worldwide banking conspiracy - a film that, unlike Shopaholic, might actually resonate better with audiences thanks to the economic downturn. In addition, Shopaholic will have to compete with He's Just That Into You, which should perform well during its second frame thanks to Valentine's Day audiences.

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