Just in time to wash away the bad taste left by The Pink Panther comes Steve Martin in Shopgirl. This movie from Martin, based on his novella, is a fascinating look into the life of a disenfranchised young woman looking for a connection. It comes across as charmingly alluring, yet leaves a sad aftertaste.
Mirabel is a Seattle transplant from Vermont looking to begin her life. Sadly, she can’t quite get it in drive, her life becomes a routine. She stands blankly behind the glove counter at Saks Fifth Avenue, dreaming of something better. She works, she goes home, she sleeps, repeat.
In short order she meets two men. The first is about her age, but lacks, shall we say, social skills. He clumsily asks her out, which she reluctantly agrees to. A mild connection is made, but he quickly leaves to go on the road with a rock band. After that comes Ray Porter, a wealthy middle-aged man, who sees something in her that he wants. He pretends to be interested in purchasing gloves, and when he does, they end up wrapped with an invitation to dinner on Mirabel’s doorstep. This starts an affair on which he has placed limitations. Limitations that Mirabel does not see. Meanwhile. Jeremy (the other guy) has gotten hooked on self-help tapes by the band he is touring with, and that, combined with his hidden but growing affection for Mirabel sparks a butterfly-like transformation in him.
Shopgirl is a reflection on the search for a connection and how limitations cannot be placed on love’s reach. On one hand, you have someone who can essentially buy what he wants, and on the other, someone who has to work harder, but is more genuine.
The film is hard to classify within the standard confines of Hollywood construct. On the surface it could be seen as a “who will she choose” style of romantic comedy, but it is deeper than that. The quandary that Mirabel is in does not make for easy decisions, as if a decision in the traditional sense is even possible. The situation is not one that can be decided on a logical level, it is an emotional balance that must be met. As seen in the film, once so-called logical constraints or limitations are imposed, the trouble begins. It is interesting to note that the film does not resolve the problems; they are more an outgrowth of the decisions of the heart, which can be as fickle as a moviegoing audience. The problems are not cleaned up and wrapped with a nice little bow. They all may be at the next stage, but the events leading there will have a lasting affect on all of the participants.
Steve Martin has written a wonderful script that puts his wit to the test. In his earlier years, he probably would have been that comical younger suitor, portrayed here with a weird charm by Jason Schwartzman. Martin’s writing is sly and peceptive, capturing a trio of connected characters at a crossroads. His wonderful dialogue, with the subtle direction of Anand Tucker, combine to create this tonally varied, quiet reflecton of a film.
Bottomline. I loved this film, it reminded me of Lost in Translation, both feature characters that feel real and have reached a point where things are coming to a head and choices need to be made. Claire Danes is a perfect focal point, she does a wonderful job of giving us a character to care about as we watch her struggle with her feelings.