Released in 2009, months removed from the 2008 financial collapse, Confessions of a Shopaholic’s existence is an anomaly. Excessive credit spending is the predominant reason as to why we – the public – are in the fiscal crisis that we are still in now. Yet P.J. Hogan’s film, adapted from Sophie Kinsella’s novel, not only glamorizes excessive spending, but justifies it as a form of liberation. Even as the film reaches its hackneyed conclusion, the cycle of consumption continues – more people buy, more people spend.
The film’s central protagonist (at least within the confines of the narrative), is Rebecca Bloomwood (Isla Fisher) – a naïve college graduate who finds herself in debt due to her shopping habits. She’s not particularly bright, but she manages to have a somewhat steady income from writing for a gardening magazine. When Ms. Bloomwood is not thinking about what scarf goes with whatever shoe, she daydreams of working at a fashion magazine headed by Alette Naylor (Kristin Scott Thomas). Her daydreams get the better of her, as she becomes wholly unaware of the fact that her gardening magazine is releasing its staff – therein presenting the only hint that a fiscal crisis is going on in Ms.Bloomwood’s world. With no job and mounting credit card debt, one would have to wonder what Ms. Bloomwood will do to pull herself out of the abyss. The answer is: nothing! It’s not until the proverbial knight in shining armor swoops in to save Ms. Bloomwood from her bad decisions.
The gender politics of Confessions of a Shopaholic is so unabashedly antiquated that, if not for the fashion on display, one could confuse the era entirely. Bloomwood’s existence is dependent on obtaining the material, and later, obtaining the man. “Obtaining” is the emblematic word here, as it denotes a sense that what is being obtained is merely an object – clothes are objects, men are objects. So in a sense, the concept of liberation is fulfilled for Ms. Bloomwood on a surface level. But looking closely (mind you, not too closely), it’s the clothes that identify Ms. Bloomwood. They serve as personality markers – she is essentially as material as the clothes she buys, because without them, she’s no one. That’s the idea that Confessions of a Shopaholic perpetuates upon the introduction of Luke Brandon (Hugh Dancy) – Brandon has an identity through his work and family. He awakens something within Ms. Bloomwood that eventually forces her to abandon her shopping habits. Ms. Bloomwood latches onto Brandon as she did to her clothes – he will suffice as the new marker of her identity. The male hegemony continues unabated. The film concludes not with self-revelation, but coerced submission. Ms. Bloomwood (reluctantly) sells her material possessions to prove something not to herself, but to Mr. Brandon. Confessions of a Shopaholic instills the primitive notion that women can feel free to spend, spend, spend – their knight will surely save them. In a world like today’s, the mere suggestion of that idea is revolting.