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Confessions of a Shopaholic

Sex and a Material Girl in the City

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars.

It’s harder to imagine a film with worse timing than Confessions of a Shopaholic, the big screen adaptation of Sophie Kinsella’s bestselling chicklit novel. With its "Sex and the City"obsession with high fashion, design brands, and social and professional status, the unrealistically perfect object of desire (handsome, successful, and wealthy), and its general obliviousness, Confessions of a Shopaholic feels like an artifact from a less cynical, more optimistic time (i.e., pre-economic recession). Then again, it’s hard to argue with a movie as a necessary (for some moviegoers, at least), if temporary, palliative for our increasingly difficult economic times.

Rebecca Bloomwood (Isla Fisher), a writer for a small gardening magazine, dreams of joining Alette, a high-fashion magazine named after its European-born publisher, Alette Naylor (Kristin Scott Thomas), and published by Dantay West, a Conde Nast-style corporation that owns and publishes several magazines, including Successful Saving, a personal investing magazine.

When Rebecca doesn’t get an open position with Alette, she decides to interview for one at Successful Saving. Although she knows little about finance and even less about living within her means, she impresses the publisher, Luke Brandon (Hugh Dancy), with her “out-of-the-box” thinking, charm, spunk, and sense of humor. Brandon also appreciates Rebecca’s ability to explain finance in laymen’s terms, using shopping and fashion as handy metaphors for personal investing.

All, however, is not well in Rebecca’s designer brand-obsessed world. While her roommate and best friend, Suze (Krysten Ritter), helps to make up the difference in her monthly rent check, Rebecca has run up tens of thousands of dollars on her credit cards. An overzealous debt collector, Derek Smeath (Robert Stanton), continually hassles Rebecca to make good on her debt. Instead, she continues her shopaholic ways.

Meanwhile, her financial advice column proves to be a hit and her relationship with Brandon begins the obligatory shift from professional to personal (i.e. romantic). As Rebecca battles Alette’s personal assistant, Alicia Billington (Leslie Bibb), for Brandon’s affections, she continues to dream of joining Alette’s staff as a writer. In between shopping binges she can’t afford, Rebecca also has to prepare for Suze’s impending marriage and a self-help group for recovering shopaholics.

Along with the recent effects-driven adaptation of Peter Pan, director P.J. Hogan has proven himself adept with romantic comedies and relationship dramas (e.g., My Best Friend’s Wedding, Muriel’s Wedding) and Confessions of a Shopaholic is no different. Hogan keeps Confessions of a Shopaholic moving rapidly from one farcical misstep to another, rarely letting comic or dramatic momentum slip during the 111-minute running time. It helps, of course, that Hogan has Isla Fisher’s charm and comic timing to lean on, but he also benefits from nearly perfect, top-down casting that includes Krysten Ritter, Joan Cusack (as Rebecca’s mother), John Goodman (as Rebecca’s father), and John Lithgow (as the CEO of Dantay West). Hugh Dancy is passable as Rebecca’s lust object, but he his role doesn’t call for much range.

Unfortunately, with the country reeling from the worst economic recession since World War II, sympathy for Rebecca’s self-destructive behavior is hard to come by. She positively revels in consumer-oriented sprees, describing them in practically orgiastic terms. She may be “addicted” to conspicuous consumption, but that doesn’t mean moviegoers should care whether she “recovers” or not. Rumors of early December reshoots, presumably to soften the ending to ensure moviegoers received the consumerism “bad” and heterosexual monogamy “good” message and to make Confessions of a Shopaholic more topical, suggest that producer Jerry Bruckheimer understood the need to make the film more palatable to anxious, mid-recession audiences. He doesn’t quite succeed, but at least he deserves some credit for trying.