The irony of releasing a movie about shopping right as the nation's economy is flailing is not lost on many. Confessions of a Shopaholic could have probably gone in one of two ways: Exacerbating the general sense of frustration and helplessness, or providing us with a fun, satisfying escapist's jaunt. Thankfully, it's pure escapism — and not just because of the script, which is surprisingly tight, or the editing which makes the narrative clip along briskly, rarely dwelling in sentimentality. No, this movie is wonderful, happy escapism largely because of Isla Fisher in the role of Becky Bloomwood: Bumbling, adorable, joyous shopper extraordinaire.
Fisher plays Rebecca Bloomwood, a journalist with an intense shopping habit. Like a drug addict or alcoholic, she literally appears to have no restraint when it comes to spending money — even when she is thousands of dollars in debt. Her practical friend Suze (Krysten Ritter) tries to help her rethink her financial situation, but Becky's addiction runs deep and it's going to take a great deal to make her hit rock bottom. The stakes are raised when Becky ends up working at a financial magazine — with a dashing cutie of a boss, Luke (Hugh Dancy) — and receives acclaim for being able to explain money matters in layman's terms. But as she gains more fame, an ornery debt collector (Robert Stanton) is hot on her trail, harassing her about her debts and posing a threat to her new image as a sensible financial writer. You'll have to see the film (and I hope you do!) for all of the funny storylines, but for more of my take, read more.
While I enjoyed Sophie Kinsella's novels as silly fluff, I wasn't always very sympathetic toward Becky, and at times I didn't even really like her. But it's impossible not to like Isla's Becky. Even when she's being ridiculous, even when you know full well that her debt crises are disturbingly stupid in comparison to the challenges facing families across the nation right this minute (and challenges they didn't willingly bring upon themselves, as Becky has) — still Becky earns our sympathy with her well-intentioned silliness and her big, teary eyes. Indeed, she is often endearingly naïve — but thankfully, she doesn't stay that way forever. In a scene in which Luke buys Becky a fan, she sifts through the fans with a childlike excitement, trying to decide on one. It's cute — she's so cute — but in this film, at last, childlike behavior has consequences when you're a grown woman. Contrary to what so many movies (particularly modern films aimed at a young female audience) would have us believe, women actually aren't children, and shouldn't be treated as such.
This is the most refreshing difference between this movie and others that are similarly billed — there is at least some recognition that shopping can be meaningless, or an indication of a deeper problem. That it can be a problem at all is a new and shocking concept for this kind of movie. In other similar films there's a smugness, or defiance about the idea of overspending (the kind that's far beyond just treating oneself occasionally), as though there's always a way to excuse it. Finally, here's a story that sheds a humorous light on it, showing how absurd and truly empty it can be.
What's more, there's way more love (and there's more to love) in this movie's "labels and love" theme. Becky earnestly and deeply loves to shop. She visibly enjoys it. Instead of just a montage of wedding dresses for the sole purpose of listing off a bunch of fancy names, there's Becky's lit-up face, her ecstasy at finding wonderful things and buying them. We see how outrageous this can be, instead of the actual suggestion that buying expensive stuff is something we should want to do all the time.
There is also the character of Becky's best friend, Suze, providing a sensible contrast to Becky's blithe ignorance of all things financial. Suze acts as the straight man in many ways, and I found myself grateful for a female voice of reason (and a strong, funny voice of reason, too — not that of the "unattractive," grumpy, manless friend, a device that might (maybe? Hopefully?) be retired for now). Not all women are psychopaths who would physically harm another woman to get a sale; look at the reasonable Suze. But Becky is that hysterical label-hungry woman at times and it's funny to watch. At long last, there is some self-awareness in this kind of story. It's satirical, and it's about damn time.
And still, even as we recognize that we're laughing at Becky's absurd hijinks and over-the-top addiction to the shopper's high, we can't disparage her. She's too damn lovable! Sure, she's materialistic, but she's also vibrantly warm, loyal and pulsing with a bright light. There's so much more to her than just the constant buying of stuff, and by the end of the movie, to our great satisfaction, she learns that, too.
Photos courtesy of Walt Disney Studios