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Overall Rating

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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by Peter Sobczynski

"Perhaps the most Canadian film ever made in America"
4 stars

Because it is a low-key comedy-drama that deals in part with a sort-of romance between an emotionally withdrawn older man and an unfulfilled younger woman at a personal crossroads, there are many who will probably compare “Shopgirl” to “Lost in Translation,” even though the Steve Martin novella that it is based on predates Sofia Coppola’s film by a couple of years. Actually, it is more reminiscent of the works of people like Jane Austen, for whom romance was more a meeting of the minds and hearts than of the genitals. And in the way that it acutely observes how people sometimes make the correct decisions regarding life and love in the belief that they are somehow “settling” for some thing else, it also reminds of the immortal words of another pair of acclaimed British writers: “You can’t always get what you want/But if you try sometimes, you just might find that you get what you need.”

Claire Danes stars as Mirabelle Buttersfield, a young woman living a lonely existence as quietly anachronistic as her old-fashioned name suggests–by days, she works behind the counter of the glove department at the Saks in L.A. and at night, she sits alone in her apartment working on her charcoal sketches. Before long, she finds herself the center of attention of two wildly different suitors. The first is Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman), a goofy slacker who ekes out a meager living designing fonts for a speaker manufacturer. Mirabelle is strangely charmed by him when he awkwardly tries to pick her up in a Laundromat but after a couple of fairly disastrous dates (one consists of watching an IMAX theater instead of the movie within and another is sidetracked by a discussion of the efficiency of a Baggie as a birth control device), she finds herself growing more disenchanted. Around this time, Ray Porter (Martin), a wealthy older man, comes into the store and purchases a pair of gloves from her–later on, she finds them outside her apartment with a dinner invitation.

Ray and Mirabelle become a couple, after a fashion, though their relationship seems to be based less on grand passion and more along the fact that they are comfortable around each other. What becomes obvious to us, if not to them, is that each one is deluding themselves to a degree about the seriousness of the relationship. Mirabelle gradually becomes more and more convinced that this relationship is the real thing and begins idly speculating about the future. Ray, on the other hand, is the kind of guy who finds it easier to offer her expensive baubles than his heart and sees the relationship as just a lark for both of them with no specific future–he loses this illusion when he confesses a single meaningless encounter with another woman and is shocked by Mirabelle’s devastated response. Meanwhile, Jeremy, who has decided to improve himself in an effort to regain Mirabelle, goes off on a journey with a rock band and returns to her with a new wardrobe and a new attitude towards life to go with it.

The original novella by Martin was a lovely bit of small-scale writing but it wasn’t the type of work that lends itself easily to a film adaptation–instead of a propulsive narrative, much of the story deals with the psychological and emotional actions and motivations of the characters. In adapting his work into a screenplay, Martin has transformed a mostly internal story into a conventional narrative with mixed results. He gets the feeling of the characters and their surroundings down pat–the expensively sterile home of Ray and the funkier dwellings of Mirabelle and Jeremy–and a lot of the dialogue between the three characters rings true in a way that sounds perfectly worded without coming off as too arch or literary. The problem is that the characters of Ray and Mirabelle are so restrained and reticent that they come pretty close to feeling bloodless at certain points. (This may well be the most Canadian-feeling movie ever produced in America.) As a result, when we get to the stuff featuring the comparatively manic Jeremy, the shift in tone is occasionally jarring and comes off at times like low comedy relief than a natural story progression. (One subplot, in which a gold-digging co-worker or Mirabelle’s sets her sights on Ray but winds up with Jeremy instead, comes off like the coarsest of sitcoms and could have easily be deleted, or at least shortened, without losing much of anything.)

Where “Shopgirl” succeeds, enough so to warrant a recommendation, is in the performances. For Martin, his smooth and skillful work as Ray is a reminder that he can be, when duly inspired, one of the more intriguing actors around–a fact that has gotten lost in recent years as he has wasted his talents on the likes of “Bringing Down the House” and “Cheaper by the Dozen.” As for Schwartzman, he is essentially doing a riff on his beloved Max Fischer character from “Rushmore,” but he does lend the character an oddball charm that allows you to see why Mirabelle would find him intriguing despite his obvious weirdness.

The best performance, however, comes from Claire Danes, the wonderful young actress who made such a splash early on with the short-lived TV show “My So-Called Life” and who has never quite found the movie role that has allowed her to live up to her early promise (at one point, she even found herself blowing things up amidst the carnage of “Terminator 3"). Her performance as Mirabelle is her best big-screen work to date–she is sweet, charming and sexy in a low-key manner while still letting her vulnerabilities comes through in quietly unassuming ways that are all the more affecting for the way that they sneak up on you when you least expect them.

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originally posted: 10/28/05 14:38:28
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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
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 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
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  21-Oct-2005 (R)
  DVD: 25-Apr-2006

  20-Jan-2006 (15)


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