You have to wonder if a comedy about a young woman plagued by debt is really timely or seriously mistimed. With stories about debt and dollars leading almost every newscast these days it may be a risk to release a lighthearted movie about living beyond one’s means. Of course Confessions of a Shopaholic was shot last year before the bottom fell out of the economy, and in fact, re-shoots were done to change the end of the movie to reflect the current financial situation, but the question remains: Will audiences want to laugh with a movie about a compulsive shopper who seems pathologically unable to live on a budget?
Based on the popular Shopaholic novels by British author Sophie Kinsella, the movie centers on Rebecca Bloomwood (Wedding Crashers’ Isla Fisher) a 25 year old college grad who relocates to Manhattan to facilitate her shopping obsession—she gets an orgasmic look in her eye when she sees a sale sign and mannequins come to life to convince her to shop—and also break into New York competitive magazine market. With her credit cards being declined at Gucci, Prada—“They said I was a valued customer,” she weeps, “but now they send me hate mail.”—and other cathedrals of commerce she looks to find a way out of her debt by taking the most ironic of jobs—a financial advice columnist.
Confessions of a Shopaholic plays like a broad comedy, so broad in fact it makes Gilligan’s Island look like Molière. Isla Fisher is a gifted comic actress in the Lucille Ball vein and isn’t afraid to indulge in some good old fashioned slapstick or face pulling, but the tone of the movie is uneven. It zigzags between heartfelt and straight up goofy and those seismic shifts are enough to give the casual viewer whiplash.
The movie’s take on the economics of being a shopaholic are equally confusing. Of course Rebecca learns her lesson about debt and the dangers of being financially over extended, a timely message if there ever was one, but it’s all a bit too easy. In the beginning she’s a mini-Madoff, spending like a drunken sailor, but instead of landing in jail she lands a great job, a hunky boyfriend and an entree into the life she always dreamed about. It’s hardly a cautionary tale, although the film inadvertently provides a bit of a history lesson. Shot less than a year ago it talks of unparalleled growth in business. In this contemporary tale the economy is still good. What a difference a few months and a couple of bankrupt banks can make.
Not that any of this matters. I’m not the target market for Confessions of a Shopalholic. You’d think I’d have learned my lesson after reviewing Sex and the City and being told to “shut my damn manhole” (as one kind viewer suggested) but professional obligation obliges me to continue.
The movie will find an audience, but lacks the lifestyle porn—the money shots of the shoes, the apartments and clothes—that made Sex and the City repeat worthy. Only one scene drew the kind of “oohs” and “aws” from the audience I saw it with, which was 95% women, as opposed to 9 or 10 in SATC, but again that probably won’t matter because as the PMC (preferred movie companion) said after the film was over, “I liked it because it was so sparkly and pink.”