Hollywood has found a new cash cow, though the use of the latter term might get more than a few supposedly chauvinistic critics in trouble. The modern woman, sick of the same old sloppy rom-com rationalizations, has decided to go gourmand. Like Veruca Salt in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, she wants it all and she wants it now. Oh course, back in the '70s, said little girl was considered a brat. Today, she is the reigning glamor queen of conspicuous consumption.
A perfect example of this ideal is Rebecca Bloomwood. The heroine of P.J. Hogan's adaptation of Sophia Kinsella's Confessions of a Shopaholic, this spunky career gal wants a cushy job, a suave boyfriend, an understanding best bud, and an unlimited credit line... and that's just for starters. Only problem is, Rebecca (played with real drive by Isla Fisher) is neck-deep in debt. She just can't stop spending. When her job as a writer for a gardening rag falls through, she applies at the nation's number one fashion magazine. Named after its editor, Alette Naylor (Kristin Scott Thomas), the job represents the completion of all our heroine's career goals. Sadly, she has to settle for a gig writing at Successful Saving, a financial magazine. Oh, irony! Luckily, it's managed by the humble British hunk Luke Brandon (Hugh Dancy). Article continues below
It's clear that without director Hogan, Confessions of a Shopaholic would be intolerable. The man behind Muriel's Wedding and Peter Pan takes what should be a shrill, overly saccharine combination of Legally Blonde and Sex and the City and turns it into a likable, if ultimately lightweight romp. Fisher is like that lonely little puppy in the pet store window. She whimpers and whelps, wags her cute little tail and puts on the "adopt me" face better than a barnyard full of Marleys. By the movie's end, you can't help but identify with her anguish and relish in her joy. The script also does a wonderful job of explaining the character's compulsion to buy. During a scene with a support group, her speech is so inspiring she sends her fellow sale obsessives into complete relapse.
It's a shame then that so much of Confessions falls flat. Fisher may be a gifted physical comedian, but the slapstick here is stiff and unimaginative. Even worse, her wide-eyed, whimsical look at everything around her grows grating at times. Apparently, Rebecca is one of the few people in the world that can reduce even the most complex problem down to a shoe analogy. Supporting this sporadic entertainment are lost-in-the-trenches talents like Thomas, Dancy, John Lithgow (as a far-thinking publisher), plus John Goodman and Joan Cusack (as Rebecca's regressive parents). They attempt to add sparkle to a movie already drenched in far too many unrealistic narrative rhinestones.
Yet just like that cute-as-a-button mutt you can't pass up, Confessions of a Shopaholic eventually steals your heart, though you feel incredibly guilty for buying into the pap, and recognize almost immediately when the narrative starts spilling over into full blown manipulation. There are several subplots (the wedding of Rebecca's whiny friend; the doltish debt collector haunting our heroine's every step) that seem lifted out of a third-rate cable sitcom. At other moments, Hogan drops the dopiness and actually finds some empathy and humor.
In the contemporary realm of today's self-described superwomen, Rebecca Bloomwood is viewed as a role model. In the film, her fashion-centric financial column is celebrated for having the ability to connect with the otherwise clueless masses. Confessions of a Shopaholic can be praised for a similarly-styled stunt. It makes even the most cynical film fan forget its flaws and accept its minor pleasures.