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Film Review ***: ‘Shopgirl’ Not Your Average Chick Flick

Intelligent Film Shows Realistic Story of Life and Love

By Jillian Berry


Directed by Anand Tucker

Screenplay by Steve Martin

Based on the novella by Steve Martin

Starring Steve Martin, Claire Danes, Jason Schwartzman

Touchstone Pictures

Rated R

Opened Oct. 21, 2005

In “Shopgirl,” Mirabelle Buttersfield (Claire Danes) is a lonely artist and sales clerk in the glove department at Saks Fifth Avenue in Los Angeles. All she wants is someone to notice her. Then, while at the laundromat, she meets Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman), a goofy artist who does stenciling on amplifiers. After much persuasion, he convinces her to go on a date with him. She sees no future with him, but he refuses to believe this. At the same time, Mirabelle is being courted by a wealthy fifty-something named Ray Porter (Steve Martin), whom she met at Saks. He pampers her with expensive gifts and dinners. She is swept off her feet by Ray, even though he refuses to commit to the relationship, and she forgets about Jeremy until he reappears after months on tour with a band. Jeremy has changed for her, and Mirabelle is forced to decide between Jeremy, who has nothing to offer but love, and Ray, who can offer everything but love.

First, I must admit that I thought this movie was going to be a romantic comedy, but I was wrong. “Shopgirl” is a drama about life and romance, and is full of bittersweet challenges and decisions; this certainly is not the typical chick flick with a happy ending. Claire Danes perfectly portrays Mirabelle as the complex character that she is, with much of the movie focusing on her facial expressions rather than her words. She carries the film, and you cannot help but wish the best for her. I felt her pain as she struggled with the challenges of an imperfect life and understood the choices she made. In addition, Steve Martin and Jason Schwartzman completely disappeared into their characters. They contrasted each other in every way, each exposing the flaws of the other.

One of my favorite aspects of this film was the subtle symbolism throughout. I was particularly intrigued by the 52 stairs to Mirabelle’s apartment — they rise and rise, but right before her apartment go down half a flight. They are shown repeatedly in the film (as well as commented upon), and represent Mirabelle’s attempt to reach the apex of her dreams, only to be brought down again by reality. I also enjoyed the circular nature of the film, with the same scene of cars on a highway opening and closing the film.

The major fault of the film was the slow pace. Often the story dragged, and even the wonderful music had trouble keeping it going. A little more humor would have increased the pace and lightened this often heavy film. However, the movie as a whole was very good — it intelligently represented the ups and downs of life, and life’s inability to lead you to a specific place. Up until the last scene, I was unsure which man she would choose, with neither being the obvious, and perfect, choice. “Shopgirl” is a grown-up movie that shows the pains of real life.