February 19, 2009

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Confessions of a Shopaholic (PG)
A fashion-obsessed girl finds herself drowning in debt in Confessions of a Shopaholic, a dark study of addiction tarted up with pink tights and orange purses.

If Rebecca Bloomwood (Ilsa Fisher) liked, say, crack the way she likes shopping, she’d be turning tricks for a quick hit in some alley somewhere. But because it’s shopping that is the dark force ruling her soul, she’s skipping through Manhattan like some crazed fairy princess sporting bags and shoes she can ill afford and dreaming of some better day when she can work at a Vogue-like magazine and fulfill her fashion-lust. Except, because very few people in magazines make serious money, she’d just be another Sex and the City-bewitched 30-something with a closet full of bleeding-edge but ridiculous clothes and a credit score in the basement. Still, she dreams of a job at Alette magazine and is heartbroken when she arrives at the job only to find out that it’s been filled by somebody else. What to do? A kindly receptionist advises that a way into Alette might be through Successful Savings, a financial magazine also published by Alette’s parent company. So, with no financial knowledge and little ability or willingness to fake it in the way most normal people would during a job interview, Rebecca yammers her way through an interview with Luke Brandon (Hugh Dancy), the obvious eventual love interest, who is the editor at Successful Savings. Though she comes off as potentially mentally impaired, Luke is impressed by her “fresh take” or some nonsense, and so credit card junkie Rebecca Bloomwood becomes “The Girl with the Green Scarf,” a financial columnist helping people navigate the world of personal finance via tortured metaphors about clothes and shopping.

This is the kind of movie where sassy best friend Suze (Krysten Ritter) directly states the irony of the situation. And, because making Rebecca look ridiculous is all part of the bread-and-butter here, not only does she have a debt collector after her with the Dickensian name of Derek Smeath (Robert Stanton) but she has to run and hide from him in all sorts of absurd and demeaning ways, at one point even convincing Luke that he’s her ex-boyfriend and a stalker, which starts to feel borderline icky.

I’ll set aside the nit-picking about the many many ways this movie gets the magazine business wrong — from the insinuation about the amount of money low-level editors make to the idea that any publisher would say “let’s start a magazine built around the writers’ voices” the way one does here. And I won’t try to connect this movie to The State of the Economy — the books were published back when the words “I have all my money in real estate” weren’t part of a punchline. Because even without these two major issues, this movie has plenty of stupid to kick around.

Rebecca Bloomwood is portrayed as just another Bridget jonesing for a pretty dress and a dreamy boyfriend. But she clearly a person suffering from a serious mental illness — addiction. The name “Girl with the Green Scarf” comes about because she stops off on the way to her dream-job interview to buy a scarf. Is in fact late for that interview. To. Buy. A. Scarf. Later, shopping and the fallout of debt threaten to destroy important relationships and her career. I’m pretty sure that’s the definition of destructive addictive behavior. But the movie treats it like another romantic scrape, like the kind of misunderstanding the plucky main character girl always gets in before the big triumph in the final act. Replace designer shoes with bottles of whiskey in this situation and this would be a Lifetime movie starring Valerie Bertinelli and ending with a number where you can find help. The movie lightly glosses over what could have been a really brave bit of character development, one where Rebecca could potentially have realized that there is — or at least, there can be — more to her than her clothes.

Instead of going for the dark underbelly of the designer plaid cape, this movie gives us non-stop zaniness — so much forced wackiness as she tells dramatic lies to burnish her résumé or goes all Stooges to hide from debt collector Smeath that it actually seems to highlight her mental illness all the more. And it makes you wonder what is wrong with the movie — possibly even wrong with society — that it can’t stop the carousel of Gucci and Prada and for God’s sake help this poor woman.

Because, pretty clothes aside, Rebecca needs help. Though she may know her designer labels, she doesn’t know much else. She falls ass-backwards into a plush job (and manages to keep it even after her boss catches her Googling an idea for a column rather than, say, reporting) but shows no job skills. She’s bad with people and misses her deadlines (a career-ending sin in journalism). She is unapologetically ditzy, and when you mix this with her addiction and the infantilized nature of her romance with Luke, the result is a disturbing portrait of some twisted version of modern womanhood and (far from being romantic) the trajectory of her story starts to seem rather creepy.

Ilsa Fisher has the potential to be a screwier Amy Adams, but she needs smarter comedy than this to show off her chops. And in These Hard Economic Times we in the moviegoing public could use a little fluffy romantic comedy but this strange and disturbing tale just isn’t it. D

Rated PG for some mild language and thematic elements. Directed by P.J. Hogan and written by Tracey Jackson, Tim Firth and Kayla Alpert (from the books by Sophie Kinsella), Confessions of a Shopaholic is an hour and 45 minutes long and distributed in wide release by Buena Vista Pictures.