Monday, June 12, 2006

[+] Shopgirl

Claire Danes, Steve Martin, and Jason Schwartzman star in this drama about looking beyond first impressions to find the right person.

Rather obviously based on a novella written by Steve Martin, Shopgirl tells the tale of Mirabelle Buttersfield (Danes), a naïve college graduate from Vermont who seeks her fortune in L.A. Unfortunately, the glove department at Sak’s Fifth Avenue doesn’t look too promising. Quite suddenly, two very different men begin to vie for her attention. The first, a grungy young guy named Jeremy (Schwartzman) whom she meets at a Laundromat, is unfathomably wild and random, and what at first seems to be adorably awkward quickly turns into Woman’s Worst Nightmare: he takes her out, doesn’t pay, is completely spacey, and still asks for a kiss at the end of the night. Still, Mirabelle is longing for any company at this point, at least until the second man, Ray Porter (Martin), arrives on the scene. Ray has class and money, for all he is thirty years older than Mirabelle, and he lavishes her with attention and gifts. So of course she would choose him! Except that Ray doesn’t really want to settle down with her. He thinks she’s a pretty young girl deserving of his attentions, but not in any serious way. He attempts to make it clear to her, but she doesn’t get it. Jeremy, meanwhile, spends some time traveling, and returns, adorably awkward as ever, but with a new sense of what girls might want (Or not. Maybe I’m just hoping here.) Mirabelle has to choose in the end, and though she’s been hurt, she has a newfound sense of who she is and what she wants.

I never thought of Steve Martin as anything but a comic actor (little did I know, he has a Master’s Degree in Philosophy) before seeing this film. I haven’t read his novella, but I think seeing the film is sufficient. It is like the visual representation of a novella, replete with an annoying-at-times voiceover narration that was mostly unnecessary and whose information might have been carried more effortlessly through things as simple as well-chosen props and complex facial expressions. It was visually pleasing; the simple but strong nature of the sets and lighting were reminiscent of Brokeback Mountain: solid, contrasting colors and very little clutter, with the lighting harsh or soft to convey the appropriate mood. It was rather like a novel brought to life.

Claire Danes’ performance is alternately enigmatic and driven: Mirabelle Buttersfield is clearly every woman in her twenties, and yet has her own personality. Steve Martin, in the only truly serious role I’ve ever seen him in, seems at first a bit of an odd choice (perhaps because he is the author?) and yet he fits, somehow (on a side note, the man is aging quite well). Jason Schwartzman is oddly attractive, although it may be Jeremy’s zany geminian charm shining through.

Most importantly, there’s a point to the film, and the point is driven home clearly. In most movies today that are based on books, the point seems to be lost through all the visual hoo-hahs. Perhaps the moral of the story was a bit too literary for the medium, and this may be why I have a feeling that the book would be better.

All told, a 7 out of 10. It’s pleasant and gets you thinking about what might be really important in relationships after all.

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