Rebecca Bloomwood has a problem. Well, two problems, come to think of it. Her unglamorous, entry-level job at a gardening magazine doesn’t pay much. And she loves—nay, lives—to spend. Really spend, to the tune of 12 maxed out credit cards and $16,000 in debt. Her life motto: “A man will never treat you as well as a store.” Her cell phone ringtone: “If I Were a Rich Man.”
The 25-year-old’s threefold strategy for dealing with her problems involves 1) Denial. It’s much easier just to keep spending—when your credit cards don’t get declined, that is. 2) Deceit. If Rebecca’s nose grew every time she told a tall tale to a debt collector, it would likely reach to the moon. 3) Land a job at the famed fashion magazine Alette, a position guaranteed to solve her cash-flow woes and give her access to all the Gucci and Prada a girl could ever hope to flaunt.
Reality intrudes, however, when a hoped-for editorial assistant position at Alette gets filled internally. That’s just the way it works at magazine conglomerate Dante West, a helpful lobby receptionist informs her. Want to work at Alette? Gotta start lower on the food chain. Like, say, Trout & Bass magazine. Or maybe Successful Saving, which just happens to have an open editorial slot.
Rebecca’s zany, unorthodox approach to writing wins her that job as well as the affection of Successful Saving editor Luke Brandon. Soon she assumes the unlikely role of a reformed shopaholic in her advice column, “The Girl With the Green Scarf.” It’s exactly the shot of streetwise savvy and effervescent personality the flagging magazine has badly needed. And so everything seems to be going swimmingly for Rebecca.
And we’re suddenly back to Rebecca’s problems. Remember, she’s living a lie. And a Terminator-like debt collector named Derek Smeath is determined to reveal it.
You wouldn’t think that a light, seemingly throwaway comedy would offer an insightful look at addiction. But that’s exactly what Confessions of a Shopaholic provides. And it does so by exploring Rebecca Bloomwood’s two interconnected obsessions: her absolute passion for new stuff and her irresponsible reliance upon credit to obtain it.
As she begins to understand just how deeply she relies on purchasing new things to feel good about life, Rebecca describes her compulsive pattern this way: “When I shop, the world gets better, the world is better. And then it’s not anymore, and I need to do it again.” I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a more succinct definition of addiction in a Hollywood movie. She’s not merely someone who enjoys shopping. Instead, her very identity is defined by what she buys. While mulling the purchase of that expensive green scarf, for example, she imagines the mannequin modeling it saying to her, “This scarf would be a part of a definition of your psyche.” In other words, you are what you buy.
With the help of her roommate Suze, who forces her to go to Shopaholics Anonymous and buys her self-help videos, Rebecca begins to change her ways. That means trying to resist the urge to purchase by asking herself, “Do I really need this?”
Along the way, the movie reinforces the important idea that we are, in fact, not what we buy. Luke, we learn, comes from a very rich family. But he neither dresses nor acts the part. He tells Rebecca that he doesn’t want to be defined by “clothes or labels or family.” And when Rebecca’s parents take her in after she loses a job and has nowhere else to turn, they’re willing to sell an RV they’ve just purchased in order to help her pay off debt (though Rebecca won’t let her dad go through with that plan). When Rebecca says that the RV “completely defines you,” her dad counters, “Nothing defines me except you and your mother.” To him, relationships clearly matter more than possessions.
For his part, Luke genuinely wants to help his readers understand all things financial and to tell the truth in a way average people can understand. He frequently dispenses financial aphorisms such as “Cost and worth are two very different things,” and “Trust is the most valuable commodity.” When Rebecca’s deceit finally catches up with her and Luke realizes just how much trouble she’s in, he asks if her credit-funded lifestyle was really worth sacrificing her honesty and credibility.
Instead of relying on Dad and Mom to rescue her, Rebecca eventually has a massive clothing and shoe sale to pay off her debt. Friends from her Shopaholics Anonymous group help her set up for the sale, illustrating the importance of community in overcoming deeply rooted compulsions.
In the end, Rebecca realizes just how much her addiction to shopping has cost her, and she’s well on her way to living a more frugal, less materialistic life.
A facilitator at a Shopaholics Anonymous meeting raises her hands, looks heavenward and prayerfully mouths the words “thank you” as Rebecca gives an honest account of how her shopping addiction has destroyed her most important relationships.
Rebecca has a penchant for short skirts and tight, cleavage-revealing shirts. And we see Suze in bed with her fiancé. (She’s wearing a bra.) Couples kiss on several occasions.
Rebecca once expresses her love for shopping in orgasmic terms. Conversations hint at voyeuristic peeping, somebody being a prostitute and the power of aphrodisiacs. Smeath cracks a joke about Rebecca catching an “infection in Finland.” Playing to the effeminate stereotype, a man talks about having once been a bridesmaid.
Rebecca scuffles with a woman at a sale over a pair of designer boots. She also slaps a man to cover for a lie she’s told. (He suggestively says that he liked it.) Mild slapstick violence includes Rebecca accidentally hitting Luke with a fan while dancing. Rebecca’s tightly packed armoire practically explodes when Suze opens it, burying Suze in a pile of bags, clothes and boxes. Rebecca bangs into a glass door, and she backs into a server at a banquet, hurling food onto guests.
About a dozen variants of “oh my god.” Twice we hear the phrase, “Stick your job up your a–.” There’s one use each of “d–n,” “h—” and “b–ch.” One person calls another a “raging moron.” Rebecca tells Luke, “As an investment, you pretty much suck.”
Suze coaxes Rebecca into looking at her pile of unpaid bills by saying, “I’ll get the tequila.” They turn the task into a drinking game of sorts, knocking down shots every time a statement is too difficult to face. By the end of the process, both are visibly drunk as they stagger and slur words.
Writers and editors at a publishing conference (Rebecca among them) gulp mixed drinks. Rebecca and Luke talk about, then drink a Mojito. A guy orders a gin and tonic.
For Rebecca, living beyond her means goes hand in hand with deceptively avoiding debt collection agencies. She rarely answers the phone. And the few times she does get cornered on the phone by Smeath, she makes up outlandish stories. When he finally catches her, Smeath recounts the litany of lies she’s told to explain why she’s not available or can’t pay. These range from all manner of death-in-the-family stories to fictions about serving as a soldier in Iraq, catching malaria and getting injured in a skydiving accident. Rebecca’s penchant for misappropriating the truth also shows up when she apparently plagiarizes a money management book in one of her early articles for Successful Saving.
After reading one of Rebecca’s articles, her parents go out and buy an RV in the name of living life. They joke about having spent their hard-earned life savings and trading in a comfortable retirement for fun now.
Confessions of a Shopaholic, based on Sophie Kinsella’s best-selling book of the same name, is, at first glance, a predictable, mostly unremarkable romantic comedy that goes exactly where you expect it to. Which is exactly why critics have mostly dismissed it with a mild bit of scorn. Arizona Republic reviewer Bill Goodykoontz, for example, wrote, “Part shopping fantasy … and all chick flick, Confessions of a Shopaholic is like Sex and the City with a lower IQ.”
But unlike Sex and the City, Shopaholic actually suggests that there’s a vacuum inside every person that can’t be filled with things. That can’t be dodged by perpetually irresponsible decision making. Rebecca’s way of life is unsustainable without change. And that change requires facing some tough stuff inside—and dealing with it. Unlike Carrie Bradshaw and Co., Rebecca comes to the painful realization that instant gratification isn’t gratification at all. That Jimmy Choos really are just shoes.
She begins to learn that genuine contentment requires growing in self-control and disciplined restraint—actually saying no to the impulses that once ruled her. At the beginning of the film, Rebecca waxes poetic about the joy of shopping: “[The] rush you feel when you swipe the card is the best feeling in the world,” she says, one that makes you feel “confident, alive, happy and warm.” By the end, she’s traded in those warm-and-fuzzy Visa-swiping ways for a real relationship “with someone who loves me back.” And, she adds, “It’s amazing what you have time to do when you’re not shopping.”
Shopaholic is hardly a spiritual movie. But it does illustrate the hunger that gnaws at so many people today. The hunger to feel filled … by something. Anything. For those with means—and even for those without, like Rebecca—fleeting fulfillment is as close as your nearest mall. But as Rebecca points out so simply, it’s a feeling that lasts but a moment. And then you’ve got to do it again.
In that sense, this lightweight romcom serves as something of a cautionary tale. “If you look at the debt crisis going on in the U.S. right now, with everybody having 27 credit cards, everybody can relate to Rebecca Bloomwood,” says executive producer Mike Stenson.
They can. And they might actually learn something in between bites of popcorn silliness.
Confessions of a Shopaholic isn’t without problems, of course. Sexual double entendres pop up here and there. As do a handful of crass phrases and misuses of God’s name. An unmarried couple shares a bed. And friends get rip-roaring drunk. But more so than most fare in this genre, the overall message here is about dispensing with our society’s oft-cherished fantasy that we can ignore the consequences of our damaging habits and still live happily ever after.
Real happiness, in contrast, requires reckoning with our limits and learning to live within them—a lesson Rebecca Bloomwood embraces by the time the credits roll.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.