The Confessions of a Shopaholic we need right now would be a handheld doc featuring former Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain sobbing into the camera and begging the American public to forgive him for purchasing a $35,000 commode. With its curious release date — the film is meant to be Valentine's Day date fodder but ends up resonating more with the horrors of Friday the 13th — Confessions of a Shopaholic plays like both a supremely outmoded chick-lit adaptation and an outrageously obscene gesture as the economy continues to swallow up livelihoods, homes and hope.
Based on British writer Sophie Kinsella's Confessions of a Shopaholic and Shopaholic Takes Manhattan, the first two books in a seemingly endless series, Confessions the film moves the source material's setting from London to New York City, with the Hearst Building serving as the promised land. Kinsella is essentially a Helen Fielding manqué; the movie, a wan imitation of The Devil Wears Prada and Sex and the City (both the TV show and the film, the latter of which already felt like a fossil when it opened last spring). Kinsella's first two Shopaholic books were published in 2000 and 2001, respectively — the tail end of the last gilded age. Why adapt these cultural relics now?
"A man will never love or treat you as well as a store," Rebecca Bloomwood (Isla Fisher) gushes in voiceover at the film's beginning, the first of many Carrie Bradshaw-esque moments, constantly underscored by SATC (and The Devil Wears Prada) costume designer Patricia Field's choice of hot-pink nightmare ensembles. Like Carrie, Rebecca is a journalist; like SATC, Confessions perpetuates the most nonsensical ideas about how the fourth estate actually works, especially now: "Let's start a magazine driven purely by the voice of its writers," John Lithgow's publishing magnate booms. (By the time you finish reading this review, five more magazines will have been shuttered.) One concession to reality is made: Rebecca lives with a roommate. Her name? Suze (played by Anne Hathaway look-alike Krysten Ritter), whose exhortations to Rebecca to attend Shopaholics Anonymous sound like something Orman herself might advise.
Helmed by P.J. Hogan, basically dormant since Muriel's Wedding (1994) and My Best Friend's Wedding (1997), Confessions teeters from one pratfall and catfight to the next. Rebecca, $16K in hock because of her inability to resist purchasing $200 Marc Jacobs underwear, dreams of working at fashion glossy Alette (whose frosty French editor in chief is played by Kristin Scott Thomas, slumming in Meryl Streep's castoffs). Through the first of innumerable tired mixups, she lands instead at Successful Savings magazine, run by dully principled Brit Luke Brandon (Hugh Dancy). Rebecca writes an article under a pseudonym about the perils of defining yourself by the labels you wear while dodging bill collectors and hiding her profligacy from Luke, a scion who shuns his family's loot. But until last-minute life lessons are preached, Confessions is simply a noxious product-placement vehicle for Prada, YSL, Dolce & Gabbana, Catherine Malandrino, Gucci and Burberry. Though boss and employee fall in love, boy-girl romance will never supplant Rebecca's heavy petting with her frocks.
Let's invoke Obama invoking Scripture: The time has come to set aside childish things, particularly a movie that hypocritically masquerades as a moral tale about living within one's means after devoting most of its running time to name-checking and fetishizing the high-end labels that landed its heroine in the red in the first place. While consumer porn is celebrated, the movie's production certainly wasn't averse to belt-tightening: Though Confessions is primarily set in New York City, several scenes were shot in Connecticut, which, as the New York Times reported in March, offers production companies a 30 percent tax credit as opposed to New York State's 10. As the American Psychiatric Association debates whether "compulsive shopping" is a legitimate disorder worthy of inclusion in the upcoming DSM-V, Disney — the same studio that released Beverly Hills Chihuahua four days after the Dow fell 777.68 points — might wish to consider its own pathology in the projects it greenlights. But if Confessions does even half as well as Chihuahua did at the box office, then we're all certifiable.