‘Shopaholic’ teaches fiscal lesson through fluff

Published On:
Friday, February 13, 2009
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Credit card debt isn’t funny. And more than $16,000 in credit card debt is downright terrifying.

So the fact that “Confessions of a Shopaholic” doesn’t come off as unsettling at the least is a victory in itself.

The film follows Rebecca Bloomwood (Isla Fisher), a stylish young journalist who would do almost anything to land a job at her favorite fashion magazine; including pad her resume, claim to speak Finnish and invent a dying aunt.

But to get her foot in the floor-to-ceiling glass door of Allete Magazine, Rebecca will have to take a position at Successful Saving, its struggling sister publication.

But Rebecca has a bigger secret than her mere professional embellishments: Her out-of-control spending on designer clothing has landed her deep — more than $16,000 deep — in debt.

Ironically, she writes a financial advice column under the pseudonym “The Girl in the Green Scarf,” which receives praise from readers for simplifying economic principles by putting them in terms of fashion purchases.

Rebecca’s unconventional talent also catches the eye of her editor, Luke Brandon (a charming-as-ever Hugh Dancy, known for his roles in “Ella Enchanted” and “King Arthur”).

But when a persistent debt collector threatens to expose Rebecca’s hypocrisy, the traditional romantic comedy elements of miscommunication and then reunion follow.

The movie features a smattering of fluffy scenes, funny situations and a whole vocabulary list of designer labels.

At one point, Luke points out a pair of shoes on a shopping trip, and a starry-eyed Rebecca asks, “You speak Prada?” as if it were the most beautiful sound in the world.

But “Confessions of a Shopaholic” is less about fashion and more about its multi-faceted characters, which is what saves it.

Fisher (“Wedding Crashers,” “Definitely, Maybe”) is adorable as Rebecca, and adds believable likeability to what could easily have been a bubble-headed, forgettable female lead.

When she finds out that Luke will be attending a gala event with Alicia Billington, the long-legged and glamorous Allete fashion plate with the job Rebecca wanted, the hurt and confusion but resolve to save face that Fisher portrays is absolutely perfect.

Though none of the film’s stars are necessarily big names, they hold their own. And they are complemented superbly by the supporting characters, including the stately, foreign editor of Allete (Kristin Scott Thomas), a receptionist with an evil streak (Stephen Guarino) and Joan Cusack and John Goodman as Rebecca’s loving but indulgent parents.

The movie is not all good, however. It is painfully predictable, and moments such as when the mannequins tempt Rebecca to spend an entire paycheck on a new scarf (it does match her eyes, after all…) are just bizarre.

The thought process behind her “shopaholism” may seem ridiculous to an onlooker, but the more Rebecca talks herself into a purchase, the more it starts to make sense to the audience too.

The scenario will ring familiar to anyone who has found herself leaving a store with a too-heavy bag and a much lighter wallet.

But the big lesson of the movie is that Rebecca’s “shopaholism” goes beyond a simple impulse purchase or two.

In every aspect of her life, Rebecca trades on credit — Visa, American Express and falsehoods alike.

To avoid a run-in with the debt collector, Rebecca has a stock of excuses on standby.

When she gets the job at Successful Saving, she accidentally leaves the sticker on her new “smart girl” glasses.

Her designer duds make her out to be a Manhattan socialite, when that lifestyle clearly could not be supported by a journalist’s salary. (Trust me on that one.)

She not only spends money she doesn’t have; in every way Rebecca makes herself out to be something she’s not to avoid responsibility for her actions.

But whether exposure comes in the form of a relentless debt collector or a native of Finland, the moral remains: Those who trade on credit will eventually have to pay up.

Reach the reporter at leigh.munsil@asu.edu.