Friday, May 26, 2006
Movie Review: "Shopgirl"
Starring Steve Martin, Claire Danes, Jason Schwartzman, Bridgette Wilson-Sampras
Directed by Anand Tucker
Official Web site
Making the most out of a standout performance from star Claire Danes, “Shopgirl” manages to throw some variations into the oft-dramatized love triangle situation, while largely avoiding the pitfalls of dumbing down characters for mass consumption.
Some of that credit clearly has to go back to the source material, the 2000 novella of the same name by Steve Martin. Adapting it for the big screen, Martin (who also co-stars) centers the story around Mirabelle (Danes), a California transplant by way of Vermont, looking for love and a true sense of direction in her life. She works in a Saks Fifth Avenue store as a clerk in the glove department (which, as the movie depicts, certainly doesn’t seem to be a high demand item), but also dabbles in art in her spare time. That spare time is largely spent alone in her apartment as she seems to be waiting for the next chapter of her life to begin.
Meeting Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman) late one night in a neighborhood laundromat certainly doesn’t inspire romantic confidence. And Jeremy is the very definition of a slob bachelor, with trash and clothes strewn all over his apartment. He even has to clear some space in his car from garbage before Mirabelle can sit down. Thus begins their awkward courtship that consists of Jeremy taking about fonts (he claims to be a font designer) while Mirabelle looks at him with a mix of fascination and resignation.
Then one day at the glove counter, she meets Ray Porter (Martin), a dot-com millionaire who promptly buys some gloves, then sends them to Mirabelle, along with a dinner invitation. Intrigued, she accepts and begins seeing Ray on a regular basis. Stating from the beginning that he’s not looking for a serious relationship, Mirabelle is attracted to Ray’s charm as well as the attention and gifts he bestows on her – a marked difference from any previous relationship she’s been in. The fact that there is a significant age difference between the two is discussed, but isn’t dwelled on.
The development of Mirabelle and Ray’s relationship is handled well, in what could have been a kind of creepy situation in less skilled hands. Through their eyes, the difference in expectations and desires in the relationship shifts as time goes on. Ray believes the two are on the same page in this area, while a part of Mirabelle hopes – even against her better judgment – that his defenses will be worn down with time. As the most clearly defined character in the movie, Danes gives an emotionally rich performance that helps bring a greater depth to scenes.
Spending much of the second half of the movie away from the central action, Schwartzman still is able to bring a likable geekiness to Jeremy, even if some of his quirks are a bit much to believe. Sensing his need to mature, Jeremy agrees to accompany a rock band on a road tour, hoping it will make him a better person.
Director Anand Tucker shows a strong visual style with the material, including a shot that begins over Mirabelle’s bed, ascends through her apartment skylight and into the star-filled sky as it gets lost among the other flickering lights. Less successful is the music score from Barrington Pheloung, which practically overwhelms some scenes with its loud string instruments, when quiet and subtle melodies would seem to work much better.
To some degree, the general scope of the film seems almost too small for movie theaters. This is one that will probably play better on people’s TV screens, documenting the intimacy of these characters trying to find love. Doing so without getting hurt along the way is something that even a fictional movie like this knows is tough, if not impossible.
(Rated R for sexual content and brief language.)