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Overall Rating
3.78

Awesome: 32.31%
Worth A Look38.46%
Average: 10.77%
Pretty Bad: 12.31%
Total Crap: 6.15%

7 reviews, 23 user ratings


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Shopgirl
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by Todd LaPlace

"Caveat emptor."
2 stars

“Shopgirl” is the nice, sweet, exceedingly banal story of an almost love triangle. The acting by Claire Danes, Jason Schwartzman and Steve Martin is good. The directing by Anand Taylor is great. If only the film wasn’t ruined by Martin’s poor, nonsensical writing.

There’s probably going to be a lot of pressure on Steve Martin this weekend as his latest, “Shopgirl,” hits theaters. It’s not really his movie — it’s helmed by the capable Anand Taylor, best known for “Hilary and Jackie” — but appearing as actor, co-producer and screenwriter adapting his own novella, the movie’s ultimate success or failure rests on his shoulders. As an actor, Martin definitely comes away clean, improving his image after having appeared in a collection of disposable quickie comedies in the past five years. It’s nice to see Martin in a more mature mode, and I’m hopeful he’ll keep it up by steering clear of the “Cheaper by the Dozens” and “Bringing down the Houses” in the future.

As a writer…well…Martin’s a good actor. The story is packed with a “Lost in Translation” character drama potential, but it just never quite delivers. Martin continuously pops into the action to over a melodramatic voice-over that seems to overtly smack you in the face when the film should be headed towards subtlety. I know he’s got to be overprotective of his story, but the film should be an adaptation, not an unabridged reading of pretentious snippets from a vanity project.

Away from the voice-over’s heavy-handedness, the film finds brilliance in the small moments, thanks in large part to strong performances from Martin, Claire Danes and Jason Schwartzman. The long-absent Danes stars as Mirabelle, a Vermont-to-L.A. transplant that spends her days dreamily leaning on the never-frequented glove counter at Saks Fifth Avenue. She’s got nearly $40,000 in unpaid student loans, an MIA cat in her small apartment and a wardrobe of moderately-priced “nice” clothes. Every six months or so, she gets the desire to do a nude charcoal sketch of herself, which occasionally get sold in a friend’s gallery. She’s so lonely, in fact, she even agrees to a date with disheveled, pitiful logo designer Jeremy (Schwartzman).

If you’re having trouble picturing Jeremy, just picture an amalgamation of every role Schwartzman has ever played. He’s got the same unappreciated genius of “Rushmore’s” Max Fisher — he correctly says he’s the kind of guy that is fabulous once you get too know him — he’s as dysfunctional as “I Heart Huckabees’s” Albert and as slightly insane as “Slackers’s” Ethan. Schwartzman is always a likeable guy, but I always get the feeling he’s playing a version of himself. When Jeremy shows up on Mirabelle’s door with just a bag of French fries, you can picture Schwartzman doing the same on a date. When Jeremy discovers he’s brought a mint instead of a condom, it seems perfectly reasonable to assume Schwartzman would also be asking if you’ve just got a baggie he can substitute. Maybe that’s not fair to such a talented and genuinely pleasant actor, but I’d like to see Schwartzman stretch himself beyond the misunderstood neurotic; it didn’t work for Woody Allen, it can’t continue to work for Schwartzman.

Despite being the role being expanded for the film, Jeremy opts to join a band of tour, disappearing from Los Angeles — and much of the film — early. This opens up the door for Ray (Martin), an Internet millionaire that often jettisons between houses in L.A. and Seattle. He wines her, dines her, dresses her in expensive, tailored gowns and spouts cheesy lines. During his first date with Mirabelle, he takes off her watch, puts his hand around her wrist and says, “Now I’m your watch.” Ouch. Just about the only thing sadder than the poor dialogue is the actual relationship between these two as Ray is in it just to use her for sex. He is under the impression that it’s just sex (despite showering her with elaborate gifts like the $40,000 to pay off her loan), but she’s hoping for something more. At this stage, the romance is just kind of excessive. Assuming Martin and Danes are playing characters about the same age as themselves, Ray is paying Mirabelle about a $1,000 a year difference. It’s weird enough that he has an affair with a 40-year-old while in Seattle (David Mamet’s wife, Rebecca Pidgeon), but at least that one is clearly gold-digger sex.

As much as we want it to be good, “Shopgirl” isn’t going to push any boundaries. The story is just a pleasant, safe, straight-forward tale of poor communication and tragic romance. Even the Jeremy/band story is bland — the group ODs on yoga and self-help tapes. Just about the only thing that notable element in the film is Taylor’s brilliant understated strokes. When Jeremy has his first date with Mirabelle, his car is so busted, he has to put his hand out the window to signal a turn. When Ray has his date, he turns on the stairs to wait for Mirabelle to get in her apartment before heading to his car. Both sequences take place entirely in a long shot, with no extra attention drawn to either moment. It’s just a quick 10 or 20 seconds, and then the moments are gone, unfortunately to be replaced by Martin’s obtrusive voice-overs. It’s unfortunate that these moments are so few and far between as the film could have been this year’s breakout character study, but everything about it just feels like a second-rate copy. Danes, as fantastic as she is, is no Scarlett Johanssen, Martin the actor is no Bill Murray and Martin the writer is definitely no Sofia Coppola. Taylor showed he had potential and I’m sure the actors will all find plenty of work after this. Just about the only things you won’t find in “Shopgirl” are the potential for another Steve Martin novel and audiences happy about paying $10 to be this big of a disappointment.

It wasn’t until “Shopgirl” was over that I was struck by just how bad the movie really was. It seems cute and sweet, but it’s clear that nepotism got this movie made, not talent. If the film was written by anyone other than Steve Martin, it would have never seen a studio greenlight until it had undergone a slew of massive rewrites.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=12767&reviewer=401
originally posted: 10/23/05 10:28:11
[printer] printer-friendly format  
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2005 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Chicago Film Festival For more in the 2005 Chicago Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Austin Film Festival For more in the 2005 Austin Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

10/18/10 Dr.Lao Its sad to see a true original like Steve Martin re-hashing cliches and calling it a script 2 stars
6/16/08 PAUL SHORTT HAS'NT THE BRIGHTNESS OF A ROMANTIC COMEDY NOR THE TRISTESSE OF MELODRAMA 1 stars
3/24/08 ladavies I was touched by this. It had some moments that felt authentic. 5 stars
5/19/07 David Pollastrini CLAIRE DAINES IS HOT IN THIS! 3 stars
5/17/07 ES Everytime I see Jason Schwartzman on the screen I want to punch him in the head 2 stars
9/18/06 Jaden The movie worth the $10, this reviewer is trying to sound smart but has no clue. 5 stars
9/01/06 Jim Interesting but plotless character study 4 stars
4/27/06 Phil M. Aficionado Yes, yeah, right, bingo. It IS life, and it is beautifully done all around/ 5 stars
4/23/06 Mase Definatley for people living in LA, Beautifully shot but a little hollow. 4 stars
11/28/05 Milo A truly awful stinking turd of a movie. It's not honest, IT'S BORING. 1 stars
11/28/05 Elizabeth S Heartbreaking. 4 stars
11/19/05 Jimmy Kustes For those that like character studies over narratives 5 stars
11/15/05 Kyle Molin Good Movie. Well acted even w/o Jimmy Fallon. Still, the book was better 4 stars
11/15/05 Amy Loved the book. Loved the movie. 5 stars
11/15/05 Khan Jari Californian overwrtought , pretentious fluff. Pathetic. "This is life"??? Gimme a break. 1 stars
11/13/05 Ali Shamelessly sentimental and equally insensitive...sounds like real life. True and honest. 5 stars
11/13/05 Rae touching, beautiful and awkward 4 stars
11/11/05 John Adams This was a well written thoughtful look into something that probably happens more often tha 5 stars
11/07/05 brit Tries to be artsy but instead completely ridiculous. Also insulting to women. 1 stars
11/05/05 db I thought the movie was excellent. It was nice to go to a movie about real life. 5 stars
11/03/05 thomasrichmond.biz very funny with a steve martin sence of humor 4 stars
10/14/05 Sarah S Great movie, interesting juxtaposition of artsy scenes with funny. 5 stars
9/13/05 Alex Brisbourne A real treat (and a surprise). Good script, well produced. Enjoy! 4 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  21-Oct-2005 (R)
  DVD: 25-Apr-2006

UK
  20-Jan-2006 (15)

Australia
  01-Dec-2005




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