Shopgirl review by Mike Long

If you're a music snob like myself, then you can relate to the pain and misery one suffers when a favorite band changes their sound. (I don't use the term "sell out" because I believe that this is actually a very rare occurrence.) However, over the years I have lost my love for many bands because their sounds changed and I didn't. The point that I'm trying to make here is that it can be awfully disconcerting and disappointing to expect a certain sound from a band, and get something else entirely. I had a very similar reaction to Shopgirl. The film was written by (based on his novella) and stars Steve Martin, but this is a Steve Martin who is certainly no "wild and crazy guy". (Does anyone even get that anymore?)

Shopgirl tells the story of three lost souls living in Los Angeles. Mirabelle Buttersfield (Claire Danes) has come to L.A. from Vermont. She works at Saks as a glove salesperson, and spends her spare time drawing. Jeremy Kraft (Jason Schwartzman) is a font designer for an amplifier company and a totally slob. Ray Porter (Steve Martin) is a very wealthy symbolic logician. Mirabelle is quite lonely and this leads her to agree to a date with Jeremy, which while disastrous, fulfills her need to be with another person. While debating whether or not she should settle for Jeremy, Mirabelle meets Ray, who approaches her at Saks. She goes out with him and despite their age difference, feels a connection. But, there's no guarantee that Ray has the same feelings for Mirabelle. Mirabelle then embarks on a journey through attraction, loneliness, and romance, as she learns about herself and love in the City of Angels.

I came away from Shopgirl feeling quite confused and disappointed and most of that was due to the expectations which I had about the film. As I alluded to above, Steve Martin's presence in the film led me to believe that Shopgirl would have some comedic elements. (I knew of Martin's book, on which the film is based, but I didn't know about it's content.) As a fan of Martin's L.A. Story, I had expected Shopgirl to be similar -- displaying a mixture of comedy and ethereal moments. Also, the trailer for the film made it appear that Ray and Jeremy fight over Mirabelle. Well, most of those expectations were quickly laid to waste.

The first thing that one should know about Shopgirl is that it's a very serious and at times, depressing film. Mirabelle's loneliness most likely borders on depression and her mood permeates the film. The romantic twists and turns between Mirabelle, Jeremy, and Ray are rarely upbeat and they certainly explore the very rocky roads which can exist in relationships. We see Mirabelle as a woman who clearly wants to be in a relationship and is faced with two men who both have flaws -- she must look past these flaws in order to find any sort of happiness. The somber mood of the film extinguishes the hope of any humor in the movie. There are a few funny moments, but they are few and far between -- and many potentially humorous incidents are telegraphed, but never materialize (Of course, that could have been my imagination). Certainly, Martin holds his own doing drama, but man, it's hard to resist that desire to see him doing something funny.

So, the movie is dramatic and not funny, but is it good? The movie certainly has its share of flaws, the major one being that the three lead roles are miscast. Again, we expect comedy from Martin and his presence throws off the tambour of the movie. Schwartzman is playing the same nervous and edgy character which he always plays. I dont want to give too much away here, but theres a scene later in the film in which Jeremy has undergone a change and attempts to woo Mirabelle again. The problem is that we still see crazy Jason Schwartzman. Claire Danes isnt necessarily bad in the film, but she plays Mirabelle too close to the vest and save for one emotional outburst, its very difficult to tell what she is feeling. The same can be said for the whole movie. Martin and director Anand Tucker have opted to keep most of Shopgirl on the surface and that distances the audience from the film. For example, we never learn why Ray approaches Mirabelle (save for the fact that he thinks she is pretty), and that hangs over the movie. Of course, Jeremys feelings bubble to the surface, but the relationship between Mirabelle and Ray is restrained to the point of barely existing.

Theres nothing at all wrong with the fact that Steve Martin wants to show us his more serious and sensitive side. The problem is that the result is a slow and border-line boring movie. The true tragedy is that so many scenes in Shopgirl open the window onto what could have been really good stories (One scene, which is set in a Best Buy, could have played for quite some time and I would have loved it.) Its hard to recommend Shopgirl, as its not a Steve Martin comedy, it certainly wouldnt make a good date movie, and if youre a lonely person, it wont make you feel any better. I recommend that you see L.A. Story instead.

Shopgirl comes to DVD courtesy of Touchstone Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear, showing only a slight touch of grain at times and no defects from the source material. The framing appears to be accurate and there was no acute video noise. The colors look fine, although some of the shots are somewhat dark. Artfacting isnt an issue, but there was a slight amount of edge-enhancement present. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue with no hissing or distortion. The music reproduction sounds fine. Stereo effects are noticeable and quite good, but the surround sound emerges only through musical cues, and crowd noise. I didnt notice any overt subwoofer action.

The DVD offers three extra features. Director Anand Tucker provides a buoyant Audio Commentary in which he speaks at length about the film. He talks about his collaboration on the film with Steve Martin and the meticulous way in which Martin adapted the book to the screen. He also comments on locations and the actors. Evolution of a Novella: The Making of Shopgirl (22 minutes) does offer some comments from Martin about the book, but we learn nothing about the origins of the book itself. Tucker and producer Ashok Amritraj discuss how they got involved in the movie. The featurette also explores the lead actors and their characters. The extras are finished off by two Deleted Scenes.


4 out of 10 Jackasses

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