Shopgirl (2005) / Drama-Romance

MPAA Rated: R for nudity, sexuality and language
Running Time: 104 min.

Cast: Claire Danes, Steve Martin, Jason Schwartzman, Bridgette Wilson-Sampras, Rebecca Pidgeon, Sam Bottoms, Frances Conroy, Mark Kozalek
Director: Anand Tucker
Screenplay: Steve Martin (based on his novella)
Review published November 10, 2004

Claire Danes (Stage Beauty, Terminator 3) stars as Mirabelle, who has recently moved to Los Angeles from her Vermont upbringing and has secured a job working as a salesperson in the glove department of the chic Saks Fifth Avenue department store in Beverly Hills.  It's not really an ideal job for her, eking out a meager existence that barely allows her to be able to afford paying back her student loans, but it pays the bills.  She leads a shallow life, with no friends or love interests, spending much of her spare time drawing, until she happens to meet a grungy and uncouth young man named Jeremy (Schwartzman, Bewitched) while at the laundromat.  The relationship is awkward from the outset, but she feels the need to be with someone rather than alone and so she overlooks the sizable faults for a little attention. 

Not too long after that, she is courted by a rich older Saks patron named Ray Porter (Martin, Cheaper by the Dozen), effectively ending her interest in Jeremy and making a happy woman out of her.  There is a catch however, as Ray doesn't really want to be in a serious relationship due to his constant traveling, but there is something substantive in the relationship that has the alternating effects of keeping Mirabelle pursuing it while Ray continues to pull back from getting in too deep.

Based on the best-selling novella by Steve Martin himself, Shopgirl is a gentle, thoughtful comedy-drama that explores the ways relationships work between people that don't quite know how to love one another.  The storyline is nothing new in the world of romance, with a woman having to choose between pursuing two different men, each containing attributes, both positive and negative, that the other doesn't.  It could have been very pat and predictable, and it is to a limited extent, but where the surprise comes is in the nice character study of the loneliness and uncertainty that can occur in any relationship, ultimately becoming a touching and reaffirming story worth seeking out.

Martin has something he can be proud of in terms of writing, but if there were one thing I could change about Shopgirl, it would be Martin's appearance in it.  Martin is a bit too much of a known entity to be truly convincing as the introverted and emotionally constipated man that channels his emotions through thoughtful gifts rather than face one-on-one heartfelt emotions.  Even if Martin put a good deal of himself into the character, his outside persona is too warm, kindly and approachable to think that Mirabelle would never confront him about where he stands in the relationship long before it actually happens.  His voiceover also does tend to cheapen the effect of what is otherwise an elegant comic romance, and it is confusing as to whether he is speaking as the author of the book or the character of Ray Porter himself.

If you can overlook some of the triteness in the material, Shopgirl is a worthwhile entertainment for viewers that enjoy thoughtful and intelligent romances, and it will be especially well-received by fans of Claire Dane, who continues to impress in her ability to express emotions and thoughts without having to utter a single word.  It is based on a fairly thin quick-read novella, and the leanness of material does carry over into the film at times, but the sublime direction of Anand Tucker (Hilary and Jackie, Saint-Ex) and the good cast of actors raise the production up to quality fare that starts off crass but ends up more subtly touching than similar films to tread the same path.

Qwipster's rating:

2004 Vince Leo