Dir: PJ Hogan. US. 2009. 104mins.

Fashion magnate Coco Chanel once declared that luxury is the opposite of vulgarity but in the current economic climate such conspicuous consumption can seem somewhat tacky, or even a sign of mental psychosis, especially when a character opines, 'No man will ever treat you as well as a store.' Confessions Of A Shopaholic, a bright, shiny bauble that serves as Isla Fisher's debut as a leading lady, attempts to mitigate that conflict largely through a voluble charm offensive. But the end result is a manic and not entirely convincing romantic comedy in which there is no discernible difference between its characters drunk or sober.

Based on a series of best-selling books by Sophie Kinsella, Confessions should benefit from the same haute couture backdrop that helped The Devil Wears Prada, its most obvious antecedent, bring in more than 60% of its $327 million worldwide gross from overseas. But with the current zeitgeist providing a considerable headwind, distributor Disney would seem justified in its worries about the commercial prospects of the movie. Its best chances at pushing past mid-eight figure domestic returns would seem to lay in playing up the working-gal romantic comedy angle, though that hasn't worked well for the recent New In Town.

Fisher stars as Rebecca Bloomwood, a spunky New York journalist with an unchecked addiction for expensive brand-name fashions and accoutrements. More than $16,000 in credit card debt, Rebecca gets suddenly downsized, but ends up lucking her way into a gig at a financial magazine, even though her preferred destination is the parent company's Alette, a high-end fashion magazine edited by its namesake (Scott Thomas, adopting snobbish airs).

At her new job, wide-eyed Rebecca charms the publication's earnest British editor Luke Brandon (Dancy) and after a rough start quickly becomes a sensation with a common sense money column penned under the anonymous moniker 'The Girl in the Green Scarf.' Against the backdrop of an array of recognizable supporting players, Rebecca expends a lot of energy trying to keep secret both her personal debt and general lack of knowledge of the world of finance. Eventually, though, the lies and games catch up with her.

Director PJ Hogan brings some of his trademark energy to the edges of scenes, most notably in interplay with Rebecca's proletarian parents (Goodman and Cusack) and other secondary players. But the overall tone is one of pitched mania; the entire movie feels hopped up on cough syrup. There seem to be no honest consequences to actions.

Strained narrative credulity snaps with a story strand involving an aggressive debt collector (Stanton) and a specialized cell phone ring tone that eventually clues him into Rebecca's whereabouts, and leads to a very public shaming. Dramatically personalizing her credit crisis is the type of idea that sounds good on paper, but is rendered here with an eye toward gimmicky set pieces. A more dramatically pronounced conflict between Rebecca and engaged best friend Suze (Ritter) only further underscores the schizophrenic nature of the script, credited to three writers.

The film's production design and visual scheme call for colours galore (even homeless bag ladies have shopping carts stuffed with kaleidoscopic possessions), which certainly keeps things lively. It's no coincidence that costume designer Patricia Field also served in the same capacity on both Sex In The City and The Devil Wears Prada. The film's imaginative high point might well be the use of talking mannequins, who beckon to Rebecca and continually tempt her.

If the well-worn direction of the plot generally fails her, certainly no shadow falls on Fisher. She proved herself a comedic force in The Wedding Crashers and Definitely, Maybe, and here gets to showcase screwball line readings, a delightfully sunny persona and a deft touch with some physical slapstick. Of the supporting players, Goodman and Cusack notably enjoy a good, amusing rapport; meanwhile, Ritter comes across as too broad, and simply loud.

Production companies
Touchstone Pictures
Jerry Bruckheimer Films

US distribution
Walt Disney Pictures

International distribution
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Jerry Bruckheimer

Executive producers
Mike Stenson
Chad Oman
Ron Bozman

Tracey Jackson
Tim Firth
Kayla Alpert
Based on the books Confessions Of A Shopaholic and Shopaholic Takes Manhattan by Sophie Kinsella

Jo Willems

Production design
Kristi Zea

James Newton Howard

William Goldenberg

Main cast
Isla Fisher
Hugh Dancy
Krysten Ritter
Leslie Bibb
Kristin Scott Thomas
Joan Cusack
John Goodman
Fred Armisen
Julie Hagerty
Robert Stanton
John Lithgow
Nick Cornish
Wendie Malick
Clea Lewis