Confessions of a Shopaholic
June 19, 2009

The adorable Isla Fisher (Wedding Crashers, Definitely, Maybe) is Becks, a girl sunk under credit card debt because she’s got no self-control when it comes to shopping. She wants to write for a fashion magazine; instead, the gardening publication she works for goes under and debt collectors are calling.

Confessions of a Shopaholic cover
Confessions of a Shopaholic
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Hugh Dancy (Ella Enchanted, The Jane Austen Book Club) is the editor of Successful Saving, which needs an exciting writer to freshen things up. (I think it’s supposed to be like Forbes, but it sounds more like the money equivalent of Cat Fancy. The author of the original novels is British, which might explain some of these name choices.) You see where this is going, right? This movie defines “formula”. If you’re already interested in watching this romantic comedy, you know what happens. No matter what goofy things she does, she’s going to wind up with the guy and all her problems solved.

I don’t have a problem with formula. It’s not the destination, it’s the journey, and I enjoy the romantic comedy genre. In this case, though, sometimes it seems they aren’t even trying. There are random characters, mostly assistants of various kinds, who explain the plot to her from time to time, when amazing coincidences aren’t propelling things along. It’s one of those films where we keep hearing about what an excellent writer she is, in spite of some idiotic choices and her editor treating her like a ventriloquist’s dummy, but we’re given very little evidence of her actual creations. (Again, this was based on a novel — wish fulfillment?)

The best thing about the movie is the cast, which is outstanding. Becky’s parents are Joan Cusack and John Goodman. Leslie Bibb, whom I will always remember from Popular, is the not-really rival, made up to look like a living mannequin in extremely excessive eye makeup. Kristen Scott Thomas (Four Weddings and a Funeral, The English Patient) is the brittle fashion editor, in the clearest sign that this movie really wants to be The Devil Wears Prada, or at least get its audience.

Smaller roles go to John Lithgow, Fred Armisen, Lynn Redgrave, Julie Hagerty, Christine Ebersole, and Wendie Malick. I found the best friend, played by Krysten Ritter (Gilmore Girls), a real high point, although I wanted to smack her for enabling so much of Becks’ bad behavior. As is typical of these movies, if you don’t follow fashion, the supposedly desirable clothes are going to seem pretty silly. They are extraordinarily colorful and make very big statements; the anchor pendant she wears to a fancy party covers her entire chest.

This film could have been really timely in showing what responsible spending looks like. Unfortunately, Becks never really seems to learn her lesson. Her wacky ways get her a handsome, well-off man who thinks she’s creative. She gets embarrassed on TV (by the revelation of her debt) — but who cares? That’s how you start a career these days, not end one. She solves her money problems not through hard work but through selling off her excessive purchases — a technique that no longer works in the real world, because everyone’s doing it, prices on used goods have dropped, and you’re as likely to get scammed on ebay as make any money. (In one of the deleted scenes, we do see her trying to make more money with an additional part-time job.)

Being frugal is portrayed as boring and old, while the females who spend are “girls” (not women) who become “fairies or princesses”. (No wonder this is a Disney release.) Some of the best speeches in the movie are dedicated to the joy of shopping. More disturbingly, she’s at the point where she lies casually and with unconcern to everyone, whether they mean anything to her or not. (It’s almost psychopathic, the extent to which she spins falsehoods.) Yet she never really sinks into a truly bad situation or suffers terrible consequences — she doesn’t ever give up anything that might be a real sacrifice. At worst, there are some hurt feelings and misunderstandings. I won’t even go into the kind of model she sets for acting completely unprofessionally when it comes to work.

Now, all that said, I still sat through the film twice (to write this review), and I didn’t mind, because the cast was so exceptional, and their performances kept me interested in spite of the ridiculous plotting. At the end, Hugh Dancy looked so hurt that I wanted to hug him and pet him and make him feel better … which is why he has a career.

When I saw that this was a two-disc set, I thought, “cool, plenty of extras”. Not so much — there are two minutes of bloopers and goofing around, four deleted scenes, and a forgettable music video. The second disc is for the digital copy, which seems like overkill.

4 Responses  
Rivkah writes:  

Ah, that’s sad, because the book was actually pretty entertaining and well written, and she learned her lesson in it (even if she did still end up with the rich man), and the following books show how even having all the money she desires doesn’t solve all your financial problems when you’re still spending it.

Johanna writes:  

Yeah, a lot of the reviews have said that — that she wasn’t quite so flightly in the book and that it was a more balanced portrayal, with less slapstick than the film. I didn’t want to go into that, since it’s been years since I read the book, but it seems plausible.

Hsifeng writes:  

Johanna Says:

“…This film could have been really timely in showing what responsible spending looks like…She solves her money problems not through hard work but through selling off her excessive purchases — a technique that no longer works in the real world, because everyone’s doing it, prices on used goods have dropped…”

I’ve seen a whole bunch of Shopaholic sequels in bookstores and libraries so my guess is the first novel in the series came out a while ago, before the current economic meltdown. Lemme look up Sophie Kinsella in the library database…hmm…there’s:

Confessions of a Shopaholic, 2001
Shopaholic Takes Manhattan, 2002
Shopaholic Ties the Knot, 2003
Shopaholic & Sister, 2004 (the Publishers Weekly review says “…Seems Dad had a fling with a train stewardess back in the 1970s-and Jessica was the result. Becky is over the moon, picturing heart-to-heart talks, shopping excursions, sisters’ nights out and so forth-so she’s totally unprepared for the actual Jessica, a frugal environmentalist who (gasp!) actually hates shopping…”)
Shopaholic & Baby, 2009

Meanwhile, this all reminds me a bit of another book I noticed a while ago, I’ll Take It : A Novel by Paul Rudnick (I haven’t read it but I have read his Social Disease). Here’s the paperback edition’s blurb:

“They came. They saw. They came and took what they saw. The Esker sisters are shoppers. Loving, caring, driven, merciless shoppers. Ida never ‘passes a store without slipping in and buying something to give away.’ Pola, who only buys in bulk, would have been good in foreign affairs: ‘If a nation acted up, Aunt Pola would buy it.’ And Hedy, dearest of them all, proved the whole thing was genetic. Or maybe environmental. Either way, she passed the bug of galloping consumption onto her son. Her son is Joe Reckler. Twenty-six. Yale grad. No job. No ties. Nothing to keep him from joining Mother and the aunts on a week-long shopping extravaganza disguised as a New England Autumn Leaves Tour that takes them everywhere from Bloomingdale’s to L. L. Bean. But soon Joe notices a difference between himself and his mega-shopping mentors. You see, he figures you’re supposed to pay.”

Johanna Says: “…Some of the best speeches in the movie are dedicated to the joy of shopping…”

That’s what libraries are for too! You don’t have to spend money (OK, apart from transportation costs) to get your shopping fix – you can browse the goods on offer and take some home with you without a price tag! :) It’s kinda like getting your animal fix by volunteering at an animal shelter when you can’t responsibly keep a dog, cat, parrot, horse, etc. at home. ;)

The Jane Austen Book Club » Comics Worth Reading writes:  

[…] picked it because I like Dancy (having recently seen him as lead in Confessions of a Shopaholic), and his character is my favorite. He’s a rich techie who’s got a very practical […]


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