Film Review: Confessions of a Shopaholic

Cinematic impulse buy that sparkles through its 100 minutes.

Shopping makes Rebecca Bloomwood (Isla Fisher) feel warm and fuzzy, “like the world is a better place. But then it isn’t a better place. And I shop again.” Delivered as a tearful confession when Rebecca has finally come close to losing everything, her narcotic lust for pink and animal-print outfits overpowering her relationships, job and dignity, the moment serves as an emotional low in a film that goes through all the motions of the –aholic metaphor without making you feel that there is anything really wrong with Rebecca besides that pesky $16,000 of credit card debt.

As befits an impulsive shopper, Rebecca doesn’t solve her problems through contemplation, but through panicked physicality. She literally runs from her creditors, and is not above tackling a phone in the middle of a conference room to avoid a particularly persistent caller. Most of her outlandish excuses involve Finland (“No one ever checks up on Finland”), and she gets out of tight spots by utilizing the duct tape-like versatility of a stiletto (weapon, hook, ice pick…).

Rebecca’s misplaced enthusiasm for sample sales, scarves and shoes ends up working in her favor: Desperate for 20 more dollars that will allow her to purchase the “perfect” scarf she finds on her way to an interview at fashion magazine Allette, she ends up meeting the man she will fall for and her new boss. To nail the job, however, she activates one more set of high jinks, drunkenly mailing an ode to shoes intended for Allette to Successful Savings. Her reference to shoes as an “investment,” mistaken as an actual journalism piece on securities investment, lands her a position at the magazine. From here, Confessions of a Shopaholic heads into fish-out-of-water territory, borrowing jokes from Legally Blonde, including Rebecca attired in pink at a black-suited conference, and a bit involving a whimsical writing utensil. Instead of being reviled for her outsider status, her clueless frankness reads as innovative, and catapults the debtor into the position of star journalist and Successful Savings poster girl.

Isla Fisher inhabits the role of Rebecca with a madcap expressiveness, making her a delight to watch even as she fumbles, always one screw-up away from being revealed as a debt-ridden imposter. Patricia Field, who dressed Carrie Bradshaw in her tutu in “Sex and the City,” gives Rebecca an impractically colorful wardrobe, and characterizes the supporting cast in decreasing color accents based on their friendliness and proximity to the star. Watch the movie with no sound, and you’ll still be pleased by the fashion show.

The movie’s only a tad more over-the-top than the series of books by Sophie Kinsella. Rebecca’s frequent internal monologues, conducted to justify her purchase of another item of clothing, now occur in dialogue with a computer-animated store mannequin, and a riot at a sample sale is heightened by visual chaos and shrieking. Moments like these carry director P.J. Hogan’s film through its running time, goofy and light but not the kind of thing you’ll laugh at weeks later.

When not shopping, Rebecca has a supportive and equally stylish best friend, Suze (Krysten Ritter), all too willing to rip up Rebecca’s rent check after she goes overboard at Marc Jacobs. She’s not so supportive when Rebecca’s bridesmaid dress ends up on a homeless woman after a mix-up at a Shopaholics Anonymous meeting. Since this is Rebecca, it’s the kind of failing that goodwill (no, not the store!) and a smile will fix. Add in a new boyfriend and a job at his new company, and that’s pretty much all it takes for Rebecca to get over her shopaholic ways. At the beginning of the movie, she’s told us that “a boy is what shopping feels like,” and in a reversal literal enough to induce a cringe, she substitutes one for the other, her successful walk past a row of store windows awarded with a kiss from the leading man.