Mirabelle Buttersfield (Claire Danes) emigrated from the wilds of Vermont to Los Angeles to become an art gallery star. Instead, she stands behind the go-nowhere glove department counter at Saks, bored. When she is asked out by grungy-looking Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman), the lonely Mirabelle readily agrees but it’s not the swept-off-her-feet romance she hoped for. Then, one day, wealthy, suave Ray Porter (Steve Martin) appears at her counter and the true love she dreamed of may be hers for the taking in “Shopgirl.”
www.dictionary.com defines bland as: “not irritating or stimulating; having little or no distinctive flavor.”
This definition applies to “Shopgirl.” Transplanted Euro director Anand Tucker (“Hilary and Jackie”) takes Steve Martin’s adapted screenplay (from his novella) and tells the story of three lonely people. This romantic triangle has Mirabelle, a budding artist who plies her work, alone, by night and waits on the occasional customer at her isolate counter by day, is the target of affection for oddball Jeremy. He has little by way of ambition and spends his days in a go-nowhere job selling Holydog amplifiers. His real passion is to develop a unique font for his hobby, graphics. Their romance ends before it has a chance to begin.
Ray Porter buys a pair of expensive gloves from Mirabelle then has them delivered to her doorstep with an invitation to dinner. She accepts and it looks like this might just be the fairytale relationship she has dreamed of. For Ray, though, it is a temporary interlude to occupy his time and bed. When he confesses to Mirabelle that he slept with someone else and “thought that it would be all right,” she is crushed and turns to despair and to her art. Things turn out okay when newly cleaned up Jeremy returns and Mirabelle gets the love she deserves.
My problem with “Shopgirl” is that none of the three principles even remotely grabbed my interest. The blandness that I brought up earlier permeates these characters that fail to evince even a modicum of empathy from me. I suppose that the lives of three obviously lonely people, especially in a romantic context, might appeal to some but not to me.
Mirabelle, who, we find out quite a ways into the film, suffers from depression, came to LA to find her artistic fortune. She left her Vermont home where her father (Sam Bottoms), a Vietnam veteran, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and her mother (Frances Conroy) prays for things to be better. The 20-something wannabe artist is a romantic at heart and expects to find her Prince Charming somewhere in her new California hometown. She isn’t prepared for the loneliness in a city of such hustle and bustle as Los Angeles.
In fairytale manner she meets a frog that will become here prince and a prince who turns out to be a frog. Their story, though, does not rise above the shallowness of its characters. The actors, even the author, Steve Martin, cannot breathe believable life into their lonely characters. It’s sad testament that Sam Bottoms, in what is only a cameo role as Mirabelle’s troubled dad, is more fleshed out than the leads.
Production is true Hollywood. Mirabelle, a struggling clerk who can only afford to pay about $43/month on her huge college loan, has a wardrobe that is to die for. Production notes state that the actress undergoes some 96 costume changes and this fact detracts from any sense of reality. Set design of Mirabelle and Jeremy’s working class apartment buildings is handsomely handled by William Arnold looking suitably tacky. Roy Porter’s lap of luxury digs, in LA and Seattle, also fit the bill. Veteran lenser Peter Suschitzky does an expert job in giving a fairytale look to the proceeds.
One should care about the characters seen in a film, especially in a romance. Helmer Tucker and scribe Martin fail to do this and the result is something that is “not irritating or stimulating; having little or no distinctive flavor.” “Shopgirl” may appeal to the femme viewer but it is wasted on me. I give it a C.Laura:
Mirabelle Buttersfield (Claire Danes, "Stage Beauty") is a transplanted Vermonter drifting through life in L.A. selling the occasional art work but supporting herself at the formal glove counter of Saks Fifth Avenue. She yearns to make a romantic connection and, for a time, the rumpled, bumbling amplifier font-painter Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman, "I Heart Huckabees") fills the bill, but when the older, sophisticated, ultra-wealthy Ray Porter (writer/producer Steve Martin, "Cheaper by the Dozen") asks her out to dinner during his frequent trips to L.A., she's swept off her feet in Steve Martin's adaptation of his novella "Shopgirl."
Director Anand Tucker ("Hilary and Jackie") preserves everything about Martin's book, which was nothing if not a reflection of its author, in this faithful adaptation which almost celebrates the state of being lost and lonely. "Shopgirl" is a rainy day film, perfect for those occasional urges to drown oneself in melancholy.
Mirabelle is the type of woman who could go to work for days on end without talking to someone then return home to a cat who hides under her sofa. When she's approached at the laundromat by Jeremy, they would seem to have nothing in common except the need for human interaction, and indeed, the date which follows doesn't hold much promise. Then Mirabelle's wooed in an entirely different way. A silver-haired stranger takes her advise purchasing a pair of gloves which she finds on her doorstop the following evening. Dinner with Ray Porter is seemingly an equally awkward affair, yet the thrill of being picked by this man of the world elevates Mirabelle and her fragility appears to touch him. But Ray Porter never considers Mirabelle as a long term partner while Mirabelle only sees a man who increasingly wants to spend his time with her. This romantic disconnect that will leave Porter more sadly self aware and Mirabelle more willing to venture out into the world, the same effect, in fact, that she has unwittingly had on Jeremy, who returns a changed man with fortunate timing.
And oh what a lonely and remote man Steve Martin must be to have dreamed up this successful man drawn to the allure of an underaged Eleanor Rigby. From the pristine, minimalist design of his L.A. and Seattle homes (production Design by William Arnold, "In Good Company") to the austere arrangement of the takeout sushi he eats standing up in a spotless kitchen, Ray Porter's environment speaks volumes about his disinclination to emotional messiness. Jeremy's digs are, of course the polar opposite. Mirabelle lives in the most tasteful way that she can afford, but a trip home (to lick her wounds), reveals a countrified New England background (her non-verbal parents are played by Frances Conroy ("Broken Flowers") and Sam Bottoms ("Seabiscuit")) cocooned in snow that Porter could have sprung from. "Shopgirl's" love equates to safe havens, a woman's feeling of contentment provided by the extent of a man's physicality post love-making ('I'll take care of you' says Jeremy, enveloping Mirabelle in his arms).
Claire Danes plays Mirabelle like a woman walking underwater, a dreamy spirit awaiting the spark of life, and it is, finally, hurtful rejection that makes her come alive. Danes is lovely in the role, gliding through Saks (vs. the book's Neiman Marcus) like one of its mannequins, slumping in reverie when no one is watching. We know that Ray has come to love her before he does - because we have. Martin keeps Porter extremely reserved, yet allows little rays of intrigue into the character just as he's written them. Schwartzman is an amusing disaster who's genuine and cleans up well.
"Shopgirl" is not for all tastes. Some are sure to find it arid or even shallow. But for those willing to indulge one particular flavor of a certain mood through a film's running time, "Shopgirl" may fit the bill.
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