Twenty-something native Vermonter Mirabelle Buttersfield, having recently graduated from college, is finding her new life in Los Angeles not quite what she was expecting or hoping. An aspiring artist, she is barely eking out a living working as a clerk at the women's evening gloves counter at Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills and thus she can barely make the payments on her massive student loans. She treats her job with a certain distance, often daydreaming as she watches the life of the rich as they shop at the store. She has made no friends, including from among her Saks colleagues, and thus lives a solitary existence, which does not assist in her dealing with her chronic clinical depression. So it is with some surprise that two men with a romantic interest in her enter her life almost simultaneously. The first is poor slacker Jeremy, who works as an amplifier salesman/font designer. Mirabelle continues dating Jeremy as only a relief to her solitary life, as Jeremy doesn't seem to ...Written by
The exterior shooting location of Ray's house was at the corner of Hercules and Apollo Drives in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles. See more »
The card that Ray sends to Mirabelle reads "I would like to have dinner with you" in block print, with a signature at the bottom. When we see this card again at the very end of the movie, the signature has been replaced by "Ray Porter" in block print. See more »
As Ray Porter watches Mirabelle walk away he feels a loss. How is it possible, he thinks, to miss a woman whom he kept at a distance so that when she was gone he would not miss her. Only then does he realize that wanting part of her and not all of her had hurt them both and how he cannot justify his actions except that... well... it was life.
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After some of the lesser films Steve Martin has been in lately, namely Cheaper by the Dozen, Bringing Down the House, and the like, it's a welcome sight to see him doing serious work. Shopgirl, adapted by Martin from his novella, is arguably his most serious work, and easily his most dramatic performance. However, in the world of Oscar prospects especially, the film will likely receive few accolades. Despite strong efforts from the cast, the film crashed between depressing drama and farcical comedy with none of the grace required.
The main issue with the film is Anand Tucker's direction. Only his second feature film, following 1998's Hilary and Jackie, Shopgirl is played far too serious. A heavy camera seems to plod its way through scene after scene. Several moments, mostly those with Jason Schwartzman in them, try to lighten things; but even some fairly good laughs cannot remove the feeling that this isn't a very happy film.
It is perhaps unfair to blame Tucker for the mood entirely. Similar complaints were leveled against Martin's original novella. But how much more endearing, how much more fun, this film would've been under someone like Rob Reiner. It is, after all, a comedy of relationship errors. There is drama here but the heart and soul of the story is in the laughter. The mistake is entirely in playing it as a drama with comedy, not a dramatic comedy.
The other main flaw is the tedious, and essentially needless, voice-over narration. Whether in screenplay format the narration read fine, or if it was added later to clarify the film for mainstream audiences, it detract. The actors are all capable enough to express their emotions without explanation. It is not hard to tell when a young woman goes home to an empty apartment and a cat that she is lonely. As remarked by a man sitting behind me: "A movie loses something when it has to be explained." The problem with the narration here is that Shopgirl doesn't need to be explained, but is.
Not helping the dreary atmosphere is Barrington Pheloung's ridiculously over-dramatic score. Echoing the work of Alexandre Desplat, especially Girl With a Pearl Earring (produced by Tucker), Pheloung seems insistent upon forcing drama into every note. The music plays less as an underscore than as an upstaging diva. Other technical work reaches must loftier heights. Nancy Steiner's endearing costume design, a cross between her work on The Virgin Suicides and a Day/Hudson comedy, gives instant heart to the characters. Danes' Mirabelle benefits the most. Likewise the art direction, by Sue Chan and David Smith, is delightful. Danes' apartment has an apt Vermont-meets-L.A. feel whereas Martin's two homes are cold and hollow, like his character.
The curious thing is that when all the elements come together Shopgirl is an enjoyable experience. As it was playing I really liked it. But when all is said and done there is something missing. Once you stop laughing you realize it is a profoundly unhappy film. Despite the strong and endearing performances the film is simply too sad to win any hearts, but well-meaning enough not to send any away.
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