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Written by Steve Martin
Directed by Anand Tucker
Starring Jason Schwartzman, Claire Danes and Steve Martin

SHOPGIRL opens with a fluid drift through aisles upon excessive aisles of lipsticks and eye shadows at the Los Angeles chapter of Saks Fifth Avenue. As we weave in and around these pillars of masked beauty products, a sweeping score of sappy strings sucks us along until we reach the secluded glove department where Mirabelle Buttersfield (Claire Danes) slouches over the counter, hands crossed. People either walk past her without noticing she is there or stop, feel sorry for her and then walk past her. Sadly for us, we must stop, we cannot ignore her and we cannot keep going. We must live in Mirabelle’s sullen, uneventful existence for what feels like an indeterminate amount of time and we will wonder why she exists at all. The overbearing orchestration suddenly drops out and we are, for a moment, relieved it is quiet. It is just for a moment though as it is now too quiet, eerie quiet. SHOPGIRL continues like this, changing moods between awkwardly quiet and nauseously schmaltzy through to the end, at which point I had sunken very deep into my chair with despair.

Mirabelle is a 28-year-old native of Vermont who moved to L.A. for no apparent reason other than it not being Vermont. She works, or rather alternates between standing and leaning behind a counter for 8 hours each day, at Saks, then goes home in her rickety pickup truck to her mismatched apartment where she occasionally draws. She has nothing in particular of substance in her life and doesn’t seem to mind being completely stagnant, going through the exact same routine every day. Granted, repetition is a part of life, but repetition in a film is just plain, well, repetitive. Director Anand Tucker is apparently a big admirer of repetition as each scene in SHOPGIRL is essentially a recreation of other scenes. Establishing shots of Mirabelle’s apartment make numerous appearances each time the story shifts to that location with little variation in angle taking any humourous air out of the illogical maze of stairs it takes to find her apartment. Most scenes shared by Mirabelle and Ray Porter (Steve Martin) are sex scenes and despite being tame and tasteful, there are only so many times I can sit through these uncomfortable moments. And has anyone ever noticed how HUGE Mr. Martin’s hands are?

Speaking of Steve, SHOPGIRL is his baby, as he is the author of both the screenplay and the novella it’s based on. Filling Ray Porter’s shoes in the film puts Martin’s motivation into a questionable context as he comes across as living out a fantasy to be the unattached older guy who gets the unsuspecting younger trophy girl. Both the novella and the film portray Ray as a man confident with his desire to remain free while using that same confidence as a means to hide his loneliness and genuine desire to be loved. The film falters when it places more importance on Ray’s plight than on Mirabelle’s as the title character now makes no decisions. Instead she is chosen by Ray or by her other younger suitor, Jeremy (played by Jason Schwartzman, who provides some truly funny moments as a dysfunctional, romantic roadie). Martin’s elimination of key story elements from the novella that explain the why’s of Mirabelle’s depression and fear of men, or even Ray’s rationale behind choosing Mirabelle in the first place, leave so much unexplained that by the time Ray Porter’s voice over commentary on Mirabelle finding some semblance of happiness closes the film (accompanied of course by the reliable string section), it is hollow and meaningless. As is she and as is this film.

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