Hollywood’s legion of flighty, pseudo-independent urban “career” women gets another shameful addition in Rebecca Bloomwood, heroine of the deeply conflicted romantic comedy/cautionary tale Confessions of a Shopaholic. A little bit Carrie Bradshaw, a little bit The Devil Wears Prada’s Andy Sachs, Rebecca (Fisher) is a low-level journalist in New York City with a serious addiction to high fashion. Unlike Carrie Bradshaw, who never seems to want for anything, Rebecca can’t exactly afford all the wonderful scarves, dresses, shoes and handbags that she craves, and so she runs up massive credit-card debt—yet she still can’t bring herself to stop spending.
This sounds like the setup for a sly deconstruction of the lifestyle-porn chick-flick subgenre, but Confessions pulls its punches and ends up celebrating consumerism even while theoretically condemning it. Rebecca aspires to work at glossy fashion magazine Alette, but bumbles into a job at money magazine Successful Savings instead, somehow finding herself writing a personal-finance column (oh, the irony). She falls for her dashing British boss (Dancy) and becomes increasingly desperate to cover up her debt problems as her column turns into a sensation.
Fisher’s bubbly charisma, a combination of Amy Adams’ wide-eyed optimism and Anna Faris’ good-natured zaniness, nearly carries the movie through its dully predictable plot, clumsy slapstick bits and lumbering contrivances, but all the charm in the world can’t save Confessions from muddled messages and second-rate versions of already tired tropes from Sex and the City (the faux-profound voice-overs and gross misunderstanding of journalism), The Devil Wears Prada (Kristin Scott Thomas doing a snooty French riff on Meryl Streep’s role) and Bridget Jones’s Diary (the hot British boss).
The supporting cast is full of excellent actors (Thomas, Joan Cusack, John Goodman, John Lithgow, Fred Armisen) given nothing worthwhile to do, and the longer movie goes on the more its breezy approach to financial ruin starts to seem a little insulting. This could have been the perfect film for our current lean times, a pointed but funny takedown of toxic American consumerism. Instead it offers only hollow redemption for its main character, and leaves the audience with the disquieting feeling that maybe shopping really is the path to happiness.