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November 6, 2005
Movie Review: Shopgirl

Now that the FM's health has improved somewhat, I thought it would be a good time to go see a movie. One of the more difficult choices, though, is whether any movie really generates enough interest to spend the time and money on seeing it in the theaters. Most of the time, they appear to rehash the same ground that other films have already covered. One film, however, looked unusual enough to get us into the theater -- Shopgirl, based on a novella written by one of its stars, Steve Martin, whose work I have always enjoyed.

** Some Spoilers -- Beware **

Clair Danes stars as Mirabelle, a clerk at Saks working the glove counter who moved to Los Angeles to pursue an art career and find love. At the beginning of the film, neither appear to have shown much promise. She meets Jeremy, played by Jason Schwartzman, a crude and clueless klutz who nevertheless she finds just interesting enough to give a chance -- at least until the older, more suave Ray Porter (Martin) arrives.

Mirabelle sleeps with Ray, who shortly afterwards tries to convince her -- and himself -- that he does not want a long-term romantic entanglement. Most of the film has to do with their strangely distant relationship, where the wealthy yet emotionally barren Ray gives himself to Mirabelle in every way but the one she truly wants. In the meantime, Jeremy goes on the road with a band and learns how to act in a relationship -- and when he returns, he has literally transformed himself from an awkward teenager into a recognizable human being.

Shopgirl has a lot to recommend. All three main characters have mulifaceted personalities, although in Jeremy's case they get reduced to quirks. The acting is uniformly terrific, and the writing by Martin provides cliche-free dialogue -- except for the irritating narration, also provided by Martin, in which he attempts to sound like John Irving on a bad day and mostly succeeds. It gets in the way so badly that it almost acts as an insult to the audience. It's as if Martin doesn't trust the audience to understand the genius of the film, and he has to act as his own Greek chorus to explain the ending to us.

Shopgirl is a very good but flawed film, overall. Martin is especially good in the role of Ray as a man who doesn't recognize love when he has it until it is far too late. Clair Danes breaks our hearts as a woman who sees the good in Ray but cannot make him see it. Jason Schwartzman is hilarious as Jeremy, but Jeremy's transition is the one major false note in an otherwise painfully honest film. His earlier crudity is much too broad to buy into his transformation later. Had he been simply clueless, his self-improvement would have some resonance, but the earlier Jeremy was too rude and self-absorbed. We never see any hint of why that changes, except that the singer buys him some relationship books on tape.

I would still recommend the film for people looking for an adult look at dating and romance. Shopgirl shows the awkwardness and the illusions inherent in both, sometimes with a touch of humor, but more often with more than a brush of wistfulness and regret. Except for the narration, the film treats the audience with respect and provides a great antidote to the normal silliness and political correctness that has killed the great American box office this year.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 6, 2005 7:41 PM

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