My Grandma wanted to hang this week, which in retiree-talk means sharing a sugar-free, salt-free, fat-free early bird and a chick flick matinee. Having already indulged with fellow self-loathing 20-somethings in Bride Wars and You're Just Not That Into Him Either, or whatever it's called, me and the matriarch settled on Confessions of a Shopaholic. My Grandma's a shopaholic of sorts, she proudly admits, though her vice is the dollar store, and I'm not sure how disastrous an addiction to ceramic statuettes and affordable paper products really is. Like, has anyone ever gone into debt over off-brand deodorant and made-in-China angel figurines?
Was Shopaholic a great movie? Nah. But it was everything a chick flick should be, meaning pink and sparkly as a glass of Ros� Brut, and completely and offensively cliched. Shopaholic, like almost every other rom-com these days, operates on the assumption that we live in a post-feminist time in which women don't really need to resist the stereotypes that keep us down; we should simply embrace them and locate our power in our pleasures. Or whatever. Which, of course, results in some pretty nasty stereotypes--women as uncontrollable consumers whose identity politics play out on their credit card bills rather than in activism for institutional change; heteromance as the ultimate goal; gay folks and people of color as peripheral to the pretty, rich, white girls and boys.
Lame, right? Yup, as lame as could possibly be. A sad reflection of the state of society, even amidst an economic meltdown. But sometimes I enjoy turning off my brain and turning into a blithering, if self-critical, idiot. And I'm not alone. Shopaholic was fourth in the weekend box office, and He's Just Not That Into You dropped just one spot down to number two after its opening weekend top slot. After weeks of the Paul Blart: Mall Cop, estrogen escapism reigns.
One of the most prevalent critiques of Shopaholic is it reinforces the very conspicuous consumption practices it pretends to tear down. And, well, that's not untrue. Confessions of a Shopaholic is the story of a wannabe fashion journalist who must take a job at a financial magazine to help pay off her debts in the double thousands. While the movie moralizes that spending money you don't have on things you don't need is bad--it can damage not just your career, but also your love prospects and your relationship with your enabling best friend--Shopaholic also makes shopping look so damn fun. There are unapologetic Gucci boots, Louboutin stilettos and $200 Marc Jacobs underwear. Isla Fisher's wide-eyed Rebecca Bloomwood is deep in debt not over necessities or even frugal indulgencies (Trader Joe's cheeses, Seven jeans at Marshall's, Tria for just one zippy white), but actual luxuries I actually want. Or would want if only I could afford them without going into Shopaholic-esque debt.
This preoccupation with cotton candy couture feels uncannily familiar. But where Sex and the City conflated labels and love, Shopaholic maintains that love trumps labels, that designer fashions are just a placeholder until we meet a man on whom to lavish our affections instead. Shopaholic ultimately preaches shopping as destructive and simply a substitute for "real" happiness, i.e. a man who is fabulously rich and good looking in the vein of Hugh Grant before he got squidgy around the edges. The takeaway message is that while thousand-dollar shoes will just get you in trouble with Visa, a man will love you back. While a dress from Joan Shepp will make you swagger taller down Walnut Street, a man will validate your existence.
The problem is that neither labels nor love are particularly healthy addictions. But maybe with unemployment in Pennsylvania being, like, over six percent, co-dependence is indeed a healthier fixation than spending money, even if you're just hitting up the dollar store with Grandma. Those ceramic angels add up.
PW's Weekend Picks: May 24-26
Calendar: May 22-29
PW's Weekend Picks: May 17-19