If you gave Bernie Madoff custody of your life savings mere days before the F.B.I. knocked on his door last December, your timing still wouldn’t be as wretched as that of Confessions of a Shopaholic, a bright, cheery hybrid of Legally Blonde and Sex and the City that seeks to offer escapism from our current economic crisis via the story of a precious young Manhattanite who just can’t stop being fiscally irresponsible. The adorable little scamp with the naughty-waughty spending habits is Rebecca Bloomwood (Isla Fisher), who adores shopping more than a hophead loves junk and who—decked out in Prada, Gucci, and other assorted name-brand attire and accessories—is shot by director P.J. Hogan in a series of close-ups that assertively accentuate her kitty-cute expressions. Rebecca is a journalist whose lifelong goal is working at ritzy fashion mag Alette, which would afford her an around-the-clock opportunity to bask in the glow of glittery shoes and swank handbags. When she gets passed over for her dream job, though, she instead winds up nabbing a position at sister publication Successful Saving. How, like, totally ironic, right?
Rebecca not only lands the gig but becomes an overnight media sensation thanks to columns (written under the pseudonym “The Girl in the Green Scarf”) that use shopping metaphors to explain basic financial principles. It’s a rise to stardom, encouraged by her editor and love interest Luke (Hugh Dancy), almost as ludicrous as the notion that a publishing titan (John Lithgow) might, when faced with a business crisis, simply fire up the presses and launch another magazine because, hey, the publishing world’s just rolling in dough!
Shopaholic naturally isn’t aiming for realism, and in fact its sole flirtation with inspiration comes via Rebecca’s imagined conversations with store mannequins whose featureless faces have a creepiness that speaks to the crazed sickness of Rebecca’s buy-buy-buy cravings. Unfortunately, those moments are sparse, with the lazily constructed fairy tale plot—haphazardly and/or formulaically bouncing between peripheral dramas involving a leggy Alette rival (Leslie Bibb) and Rebecca’s dowdy, savings-conscious parents (John Goodman and Joan Cusack)—resorting to bargain-bin clichés at every turn. Even if it was a streamlined gem of rom-com scripting rather than a deformed, malnourished snoozer propped up by the adorable (but not, it turns out, adorable enough) Fisher, Shopaholic would remain the most egregiously inapt fantasy of the new year.
Hogan’s trifle is an unabashed celebration of crass, reckless spending, infused with such isn’t-that-endearing glee that one is quickly overcome with a burning desire to see the plucky heroine—who gushes things like “A man will never love you or treat you as well as a store” and “When I shop, the world gets better”—turned destitute by the nosy debt collector who, in another embarrassingly mistimed characterization, is cast as a pesky villain for wanting Rebecca to—gasp!—take responsibility for her credit card debt. Rebecca eventually rights her wayward ways (by hypocritically stoking others’ shopping compulsions), but Hogan’s film refuses to do the same, even during the final smooch (Rebecca’s just gotta sneak a peek at those ruby-red high heels!). Consequently, he virtually guarantees his saga will stand the test of time as a snapshot of the country’s negligent, me-first, debt-later pre-2008 national condition.