directed by Anand Tucker
(Touchstone, 2005)

I'm at something of a loss as to how to go about reviewing this particular movie. There's really no pigeonholing Shopgirl, it's such an odd mixture of drama and romance. It's definitely not heavy on comedy, so you'll need to look elsewhere if you want Steve Martin to make you laugh. Somehow managing to be both superficial and introspective, this film easily drew me in, but I never really felt comfortable in this world of lovers and choices. For me, there's just something unsettling about the whole thing; it plays like a special romantic episode of The Twilight Zone.

You've got to hand it to Martin, though; besides writing the novella upon which the film is based (as well as the screenplay) and starring in the film, he gets to spend some quality romantic time with the always-enchanting Claire Danes. Good work, my friend. I think it's this May-November (I don't think Martin quite deserves the December label just yet) relationship that bothers me a little bit, though -- not that there's anything wrong with it. It's the nature of this specific relationship that I find troubling, for plot-related reasons it would be uncouth of me to reveal in a review.

This whole story really revolves around Danes' character, Mirabelle Buttersfield. She's a young woman whose dreams of a fresh new start in L.A. have settled down into a life of boredom and disappointment. Selling gloves at Saks isn't exactly fulfilling, nor does it pay enough to start making a dent on Mirabelle's student loans. Not only is she lonely enough to go out with a really weird, grungy, hairy "artist," she's lonely enough to actually call him up after their first undeniably boring date. The young man, Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman), is smitten with her, of course, but he is soon replaced by a new man in Mirabelle's life -- a man more than old enough to be her father. Ray Porter (Martin) is charming and safe, which allows him to win our young salesgirl's affection rather easily. Unfortunately, the nature of that relationship comes to differ in the minds of Ray and Mirabelle, and that is the emotional lever upon which this distinctive story hinges. Ultimately, Mirabelle faces a bonafide life-changing decision. It's much more than a simple romantic choice between two very different men, as it leads to a whole new direction in Mirabelle's life.

I liked this movie, but I'm still not sure how much I liked it. The superficiality of the characters creates several plot points that took place too quickly and with no contextual support, and the whole thing invoked a number of private Why? questions in my mind. That makes this film less emotionally compelling than it could have been, yet I still found Shopgirl captivating in a way I can't completely understand.

by Daniel Jolley
16 December 2006

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