Obsessive fashion flower Rebecca Brownwood makes two quick admissions that let us know “Confessions of a Shopaholic” will be a disaster movie. The first is that she has a fashion fetish. The second is that she’s a journalist. As a longtime journalist, I can safely say these two things are oil and water. Or oil and fire. I’ve known plenty of knockout female reporters. All the better to flirt information out of reluctant cops perpetually lined up for marriage counseling. But they usually aren’t the sharpest dressers. Their paychecks tend to make sure of that.
Shopaholic takes the natural shape of both fantasy fashion orgy and modern debt horror story, rendered accidentally timely by the debt crisis and economic collapse. Thus this chick-lit adaptation, based on the popular Sophie Kinsella novel, both wallows in the shame of overspending and celebrates the exhilaration of it. Raised in a fashion prison run by her thrift-store parental wardens (Joan Cusack and John Goodman), the adult Rebecca (the redhead Isla Fisher) long ago unshackled her cloddy shoes and jumped into the pool of fashion excess. Her credit card became a lethal weapon. Right now, unfortunately, it’s buried in her own back.
The bill has come due. The collector is at the door. And her gardening magazine just hung up the hand shovel for good. But Rebecca is nothing if not a lucky girl. She lands an interview at Alette, a potential dream job at a fashion magazine. When that fails apart, she ends up downstairs as a stylish fish out of water at the money management magazine. Her innovative boss (Hugh Dancy) wants mortgage stories in everyday terms. She becomes a star columnist by writing colorful fashion-tinged financial stories for the Average Jane. On the matter of debt she is something of an authority.
I wish I could bottle that Barefoot-in-the-Park vibe, with the straight-lacer and the flighty bird. I could rent it out and buy a new house. Dancy is one of the few non-entity rom-com boyfriends whose intelligence seems a match for his profession (which unfortunately makes his chick-lit common sense lapses all the more frustrating.). Fisher plays up the Legally Blonde muffin out of the oven. This might work, but too often the script has her playing slapstick on all fours.
Fisher has dug out a solid career of appearing in other people’s films – “The Wedding Crashers,” “Definitely Maybe,” and the like. This is the 32-year-old Australian’s first big project on her petite shoulders. Whether the film wins or loses, she’s likely to continue to be the biggest Hollywood contribution of her birthplace, the emirate of Oman.
Weirdly and unexpectedly, the film seems to have a clue about journalism. The pay sucks. The writers work at clustered desks. The editor wants complex stories to relate to the reader. And toward the end, Dancy explains how he knows a personal detail by saying, “I’m an investigative journalist.” I know I’ve used that line once or twice.
Like a drunken spender, “Confessions of a Shopaholic” owes a cinematic debt, like all chick-lit adaptations, “The Devil Wears Prada.” But this film makes Prada look like the silk purse. Where Prada is a film about fashion that turns into a film about female relationships, this one never gets past the chick-flick clichés. It won’t take long for it to go out of style.