Movie News & Reviews

Debt isn't funny in 'Shopaholic'

The timing most definitely could have been better for "Confessions of a Shopaholic."

Say, maybe, 2004?

In early 2009, "Shopaholic," which opens in theaters today, is a depressing reminder of one of the reasons the country is such deep trouble: irresponsible spending.

Bad timing aside, the movie is good for a chuckle here and there, but mostly it just isn't fun. Adapted from Sophie Kinsella's "Shopaholic" novels, P.J. Hogan shows us the lighter side of being in serious credit card debt, with Isla Fisher as Rebecca Bloomwood, a would-be fashion writer who can't control her need for designer labels on sale.

With 12 credit cards and more than $16,000 in debt, Bloomwood is at best a financial train wreck. Mannequins in store windows speak to her, beckoning her inside to shop for clothes and shoes that, even on sale, she can't afford. She splurges on $200 Marc Jacobs underwear. She gets in a catfight over half-price Gucci boots. She frequently lies about her debt, and worse, can't seem to stop spending, even after maxing out her credit cards.

From the start, it's hard to have any compassion for Bloomwood. While many Americans' lives are unraveling with job loss and home foreclosures, we see Bloomwood half-heartedly trying to get a grip on her shopping obsession, which ultimately leads to the loss of her job, boyfriend and best friend.

Most of the movie shows Bloomwood trying to get clean and straight in a series of a uncomfortable slapsticky scenes that are believable in theory but come off as silly. She tries watching a self-help DVD to curtail her spending. She freezes her credit card in a big chunk of ice, only to chop up the block to go on a spending binge. She even goes to Shopaholics Anonymous meetings, only to fall off the wagon time and time again.

Retail therapy is seemingly Bloomwood's only joy.

That is, until the magazine she works at folds and she's forced to get another job. Although she dreams of working at Alette, a Vogue-like fashion magazine, she ends up at Alette's sister publication, Successful Savings, a personal-finance magazine headed by Luke Brandon, played by the hunky British actor Hugh Dancy.

Bloomwood inadvertently gives a boost to the business magazine's bottom line by writing a sassy and honest column about something she knows little about: personal finance. She becomes an overnight success with readers and within magazine circles, and in the process, steals Brandon's heart.

But her shopping obsession is her undoing: A persistent bill collector shames her, during a TV appearance, into coming to terms with her mounting debt and shopping sickness.

The movie is chick-flick at its worst. It feels like "Devil Wears Prada" one minute and "Sex and the City: The Movie" the next (Bloomwood is a shoe lover living on a journalist's salary, just like Carrie Bradshaw. Only, it doesn't feel as self indulgently good to watch as either "SATC" or "Prada."

The movie lacks any depth. It tries here and there, including one scene that shows Bloomwood can trace her obsession back to her childhood with a penny-pinching mother (played brilliantly by Joan Cusack) who buys her sensible brown mary janes (half price) while other girls get the latest styles at retail prices.

It's good for a few chuckles, especially the frighteningly real confessions at the Shopaholics meetings. And some of the actors in the film are a joy to watch, including John Goodman, who plays Bloomwood's lovably goofy dad, reminiscent of Dan from Goodman's "Rosanne" days, and Kristin Scott Thomas as the snooty French editor of Alette.

As for the fashion, it's no "SATC" even though Patricia Field, who made a name for herself dressing the SATC girls, was the movie's costume designer. There's plenty of Gucci and Prada to lust after, mostly in the form of shoes. And Bloomfield's quirky, brightly colored mismatched designer style is an on-trend nod to what's ahead for spring fashion. But the looks mostly felt forced and contrived - certainly not pieces that should send you into monumental debt.

"Shopaholic" is hardly the Valentine's date movie it's being billed as. Take a date and dare to laugh. He might think you, too, are a shopaholic, something that's definitely unchic in 2009. Rather, it's a movie best saved for the girlfriends who can relate to the high of stumbling upon a designer sample sale or who have indulged too many times in the fleeting bliss of retail therapy.

The best financial advice would be to pass altogether on "Shopaholic" and splurge on something else.

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