At the emotional climax of “Confessions of a Shopaholic,” protagonist Rebecca Bloomwood delivers the logic behind her titular addiction: “When I shop, the world gets better. The world is better. And then it’s not anymore, and I need to do it again.”
Although most in the theater chuckled mockingly at her declaration, I understand where she’s coming from: I feel much the same way about the recent slate of rom-coms. They certainly still provide the escapist romanticism and comforting predictability required for the genre, but there’s an undercurrent of inadequacy, superficiality and desperation that leaves you feeling kind of empty … yet wanting more.
“Confessions,” an adaptation of the popular chick-lit series, follows the trials of Rebecca (Isla Fisher), a young struggling journalist with a crippling shopping addiction. The movie begins with Rebecca already $16,000 in credit-card debt. A drunken escapade with her “quirky best friend with dark hair and hipster bangs” (Krysten Ritter) lands Rebecca a job at Smart Saving magazine, writing columns for charming boss Luke Brandon (Hugh Dancy). It doesn’t feel like a spoiler to disclose that Rebecca’s column about responsible spending becomes a hit, even as she falls in love with Luke. Then her deception (and debt) is publicly revealed by her nemesis, leading to humiliation, a brutal breakup and, ultimately, romantic reconciliation, all while Rebecca figures out what is most important in life.
The film is most remarkable for the emergence of Isla Fisher, best known for her work as the psychotic, clingy redhead in “Wedding Crashers” and her marriage to Borat. She looks like an exact cross between Amy Adams and Jenna Fischer — the kind of unassuming face that resonates in the “US Weekly” era of Lohan and Kardashian. Despite playing a deceptive, weak character with few redeeming qualities, Fisher reels you in from her first pratfall. With “Crashers,” “Confessions” and “Definitely, Maybe” behind her, Fisher, along with Katherine Heigl and Ginnifer Goodwin, joins the next generation of Meg Ryans.
Even Fisher, however, cannot pull off the weirdest foray into magic realism in romantic-comedy history. As Bloomwood struggles with her addiction, the creepy mannequins in the stores come to life and seductively urge her to purchase scarves and boots. The mannequins are animated throughout the film, mapping Fisher’s relapses and rehabs with winks, shrugs, smirks and, most disturbingly, applause. Although “Confessions” provides a pleasant afternoon in the theater, the mannequins are emblematic of how the film feels just a tad off in tone and message.
Much like “He’s Just Not That Into You” — released a week before “Confessions” — the movie portrays a disturbing message to its target female audience. Although it’s heartening to see females cast as the sole protagonists of romantic comedies without a male counterpart, their story-lines are disconcerting. In both movies, the women are flawed and self-destructive. Only when they realize their neediness and weakness can they reap their reward — the man of their dreams. The men are perfect as is; it’s the women who are causing the issues. Only once Jennifer Aniston realizes she doesn’t need to get married can Ben Affleck propose. And Isla Fisher has to accept and fix her addiction before she can land her perfect man.
The portrayal of the morality of shopping is equally muddled. The film preaches against superficiality and reckless spending, yet the mood and tone of “Confessions” are never more alive than when Rebecca is indulging herself at a store. Even after witnessing the parable of Rebecca Bloomwood, it’s hard not to get drawn in. I saw “Confessions of a Shopaholic” at the Milford Mall. As I took the escalator down afterward, the H&M to my right had never seemed so alluring. It was as if the mannequins were beckoning me in.