November 21, 2005

Shopgirl4 1/2 Stars

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In the last five years, Steve Martin has appeared in some bad films. You may have lost several precious hours of your life watching gems like Cheaper by the Dozen, Bringing Down the House, and Looney Tunes: Back in Action. His new movie Shopgirl, however, which he writes and acts in, is his career defining film (unless Cheaper by the Dozen 2 turns out to be the next Citizen Kane). Shopgirl stars Claire Danes as Mirabelle, a depressed twenty-something who works as a glove salesman in a Saks Fifth Avenue Department Store. Mirabelle meets Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman), a poor, grungy loser who “takes time to get to know.” Mirabelle rushes into a relationship with Jeremy, but soon breaks it for Ray Porter (Steve Martin), an incredibly rich man in his fifties who wins Mirabelle’s heart through a series of expensive gifts. The rest of the movie chronicles Mirabelle and Ray’s relationship, the problems that arise from it, and Jeremy’s subsequent transformation.

Danes is the glue that holds the movie together. She expertly portrays a woman suffering from depression, frequently showing a blank expression on her face as she stares into space. Furthermore, as the social gap between her and Ray begins to manifest itself, Danes’s emotional catharsis is so powerful that the audience truly empathizes with her.

Martin and Schwartzman both excel in their roles as well. As Ray, Martin is entirely convincing as a man with two houses, a private jet, but is incredibly lonely. He falls in love with Mirabelle, but cannot get past the class distinctions that distinguish them and is unable to tell her his true feelings. Schwartzman is a revelation as Jeremy. He provides comic relief, and in one hilarious scene, his foreplay with Mirabelle includes him constantly zipping and unzipping his jacket, as if he was a seven year old. Schwartzman is usually known as “that guy from that band that did the O.C. theme song!” or “that guy whose mom was in all five Rocky movies and all three Godfather films!” but here Schwartzman proves his prowess as an actor.

The script, adapted by Martin from his novella, runs the gamut of emotions. There were several memorable lines, such as when Ray takes Mirabelle’s watch, puts his hand around her wrist and says “now I’m your watch.” While this line might look cheesy in print, it is actually incredibly effective in the context of the movie. Martin also includes a lot of comic relief; for example, during one sequence, Jeremy accidentally brings a mint instead of a condom, and proceeds on a quest to find one, which is cut short when he takes one from Mirabelle’s neighbor. The one misstep in the script is the voiceover narration by Martin himself, which although sparse, sounded very out of place. The narration was so omniscient and removed that is sounded like I was watching a documentary on wildebeest mating habits.

Director Anand Tucker, whose previous work includes Hilary and Jackie, is excellent. What struck me most was the way that the camera angles mirrored the class differences between Mirabelle and Ray. During the beginning of the movie, Tucker films a shot looking up at Ray from Mirabelle’s perspective, suggesting that he is higher on the social scale than her. However, later in the film, after the two commence their relationship, Tucker uses a very similar shot, but this time, Ray is filmed straight on, showing how they are now one and the same. Tucker’s only misstep is the occasional use of popular music, which seems very out of place (especially Dusty Springfield’s “I Only Want to Be With You,” which not only was ineffective but also loses points for being the theme song to Arli$$).

Shopgirl is a poignant and hilarious look at social classes and relationships that will definitely entertain you for two hours. In a season full of disappointing movies, Shopgirl delivers and puts Martin in the upper echelon of the filmmaking world (until his painful looking new Pink Panther film opens next year).

Archived article by Michael Mix
Sun Staff Writer