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Shopgirl Review

By Shawn McKenzie 11/04/2005

Shopgirl is being touted as a possible Oscar contender, but for me, I just thought that it was a cute chick flick with an ending that wasn’t predictable.

Twenty-something Mirabelle Buttersfield (Claire Danes) is a good-looking woman originally from Vermont who works the glove counter at Saks Fifth Avenue in Los Angeles.  She is clinically depressed though, and as Johnny Lee sang, she is “lookin’ for love in all the wrong places.”  Her coworker Lisa Cramer (Bridgette Wilson-Sampras) tries to give her advice on dating, but it doesn’t really work.  One night while at the Laundromat, Jeremy Kraft (Jason Schwartzman), a socially awkward designer of fonts and advertising logos for Holydog amplifiers, introduces himself.  Even though he is grungy and can’t seem to know how to act around women, he appears to be sweet and unthreatening, so they go out on a date.  He does everything wrong on the date, and he goes home, but in a fit of desperation, she calls him later and invites him over.  Prompted by advice from Lisa that she should sleep with a guy whom she doesn’t care about, she sleeps with Jeremy.  Jeremy then becomes smitten with Mirabelle, but she felt unsatisfied with the hook-up with him.  The next day she meets Ray Porter (Steve Martin), a fifty-something white-haired dot com millionaire with houses in L.A. and Seattle who buys some gloves from her at her counter.  He is much better well adjusted than Jeremy is, and they have an instant spark.  That night while coming home, she discovers that Ray has sent the gloves to her along with a dinner invitation to a fancy Beverly Hills restaurant.  The spark intensifies following the dinner, and they sleep together, but he tells her that he doesn’t want this relationship to be a serious thing.  Mirabelle is so caught up in being with a man who treats her right that the statement blinds her, and her love for him grows.  Ray’s affection for Mirabelle grows, but he really doesn’t change his attitude about not wanting a serious relationship.  On one lonely night in his house in Seattle, Ray sleeps with an old girlfriend named Christie Richards (Rebecca Pidgeon), and he later tells Mirabelle about it.  She is so broken up about it that she goes to visit her dad Dan (Sam Bottoms) and mom Catherine (Frances Conroy) in Vermont to get over the hurt.  Meanwhile, Jeremy ends up traveling around the country as a roadie for a band called Hot Tears when the lead singer, Luther (Mark Kozelek), is impressed with Jeremy’s roadie skills.  While on the road, he watches some “How to Understand Women” DVDs, and he comes back to L.A. a totally changed man.  Mirabelle must then decide if she wants a rich man who can do things like pay off her college loans, but can’t love her, or a poor man who can’t give her anything but his heart.

The biggest Oscar buzz is over Danes.  Ever since her breakout role as Angela Chase in ABC’s “My So-Called Life,” she has been under the radar since.  She still acts, but nothing has really stood out.  The movie itself is also being compared to 2003’s Lost in Translation, in which a depressed girl dates an older man.  Scarlett Johansson didn’t actually date Bill Murray in that movie though, and Danes was much more entertaining here than Johansson in her movie.

The two men in her life aren’t garnering any Oscar buzz, but they are both good.  Martin, the former wild and crazy guy, also wrote the screenplay (based on his 2000 novella) and produced this movie.  His performance is restrained here, but that works for the character.  You might think that his relationship with Danes would be creepy, but it isn’t.  At the same time, he seems more like a father figure than a boyfriend later in their relationship.  Schwartzman, on the other hand, almost annoyed me to the end of not liking him, which was exactly the point.  When he goes through his “change” though, I found myself rooting for him.  The funny thing is that I also found myself rooting for Martin as well, even though he tried hard to be distant from Danes.

Anand Tucker directed Shopgirl.  He also directed the 1998 movie Hilary and Jackie, which garnered Best Actress nominations for Emily Watson and Rachel Griffiths.  Martin obviously chose the right director, because the movie was original and charming without being clichéd.  The ending of it was not the typical chick flick ending, which made me happy.  I don’t want to give it away, but it reminded me a little bit of the ending of the 1997 Kevin Smith movie Chasing Amy, in which the ending didn’t get wrapped up in a pretty bow.  I’ve never read the book, but according to people who have, the movie follows the book fairly well (the only glaring difference is that it takes place in Saks instead of the book’s Neiman Marcus.)  It wasn’t the best movie of the year, and I don’t know if it will actually garner any Oscar nominations, but it is refreshing to see a movie that didn’t follow the usual chick flick formula.


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