Claire Danes, Steve Martin, Jason Schwartzman, Bridgette Wilson, Sam Bottoms, Frances Conroy, Rebecca Pidgeon, Samantha Shelton, Gina Doctor, Clyde Kusatsu, Romy Rosemont, Joshua Snyder, Rachel Nichols, Shane Edelman"/>
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With: Claire Danes, Steve Martin, Jason Schwartzman, Bridgette Wilson, Sam Bottoms, Frances Conroy, Rebecca Pidgeon, Samantha Shelton, Gina Doctor, Clyde Kusatsu, Romy Rosemont, Joshua Snyder, Rachel Nichols, Shane Edelman
Written by: Steve Martin, based on his novella
Directed by: Anand Tucker
MPAA Rating: R for some sexual content and brief language
Running Time: 104
Date: 09/09/2005

Shopgirl (2005)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

'Shop' Profound

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

You'll probably hear a lot of reviewers wearily comparing Shopgirl to Lost in Translation (2003), with all kinds of added caveats, such as: isn't it about time we put this tired old formula to rest?

This "tired old formula" has turned up in maybe four films over the past three years, so none of these complaints really hold water, especially given the preponderance of far worse genre films in far greater numbers, and especially since these films represent the best American filmmaking of the period. Critics will point out that both Shopgirl and Lost in Translation tell the story of a relationship between an older man and a younger woman, and that both men are played by comedians looking for new depth in their movie roles.

What they will not point out is that Steve Martin published his novella Shopgirl all the way back in 2000, and that Shopgirl weaves a love triangle with the central focus on the girl, while Lost in Translation takes place with equal focus between two people. Also, they apparently have failed to notice how lovely, funny and adorable Shopgirl is. It's almost huggable.

Mirabelle Buttersfield (Claire Danes) works at the glove counter at Saks Fifth Avenue in Los Angeles. The camera tracks through the streets, following a beautiful model-type girl as she enters the store, and it continues tracking through the dazzling salesgirls and glamorous customers until it rests on shy, somewhat plain Mirabelle, a little bored and quite stuck. She carefully removes a shoe behind the counter to stretch her foot, all the time keeping stiff from the waist up so as not to be noticed.

She is about to meet two men. Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman) works for an amplifier company and designs fonts. Ray Porter (Steve Martin -- who also adapted the screenplay from his own novella) is a rich businessman with houses in several cities. Jeremy and Mirabelle go on one mediocre date, just before Ray manages to sweep Mirabelle off her feet. On a date at a fancy restaurant, he chatters on about "date talk," then does something sweet. He removes her watch, encircles her wrist with his fingers and says, "now I'm your watch." But although Mirabelle is serious, Ray considers her only a girl in this particular port.

Meanwhile, Jeremy has taken some off-the-cuff advice from Mirabelle and gone on the road with a rock band, helping to spread the word about his amplifiers. The bandleader (Mark Kozelek, real-life singer for the Red House Painters) likes to listen to self-help tapes while on the bus, and Jeremy slowly learns confidence and respect.

It's not difficult to predict the story's arc, but director Anand Tucker (Hilary and Jackie) with aid from cinematographer Peter Suschitzky (A History of Violence), correctly focuses on the moments. Their widescreen cinematography and delicate use of colors captures Martin's beloved, magical vision of Los Angeles (in one scene Jeremy marvels at a giant plaster Hulk bursting forth from a movie theater wall) while offering plenty of quiet corners and empty spaces in which to reflect.

Martin's dialogue, while dishing out a few laughs here and there, mostly focuses on truthful emotions that constantly change. In many love triangles, the third party is a kind of disposable patsy, easily despised by the audience, but here, both Jeremy and Ray come across as reasonable, malleable people.

But it's Danes who sells Shopgirl. Dealing with Mirabelle's chemical depression, she opens up slowly over the course of the film, like a time-lapse flower. Her flat lick of red hair that was so unglamorous at the beginning becomes a radiant flame. Moreover, her transformation has little to do with being loved by a man; it's her awakening, and no one else's.

Martin's unwavering belief in the magic of Los Angeles/Hollywood and the charming stories that happen there just under everyone's noses may turn off some cynics, but for those not lost in translation, it's a delight.

DVD Details: I was hoping for a Martin commentary track, since this was his baby, but all we get is one by Tucker. Other extras include deleted scenes and a making-of featurette.

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