Sharing Steve :: New Stuff
Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Another review
MovieCityNews Reviews
David Poland
Directed by Anand Tucker
Touchstone Picures

I don’t know if it’s fair to start talking Shopgirl by noting that the book was better. I don’t even know if “better” is a direct issue. What I can say is that I preferred the desert dry novella, the change in tone evident from the first shots of the movie, which transform the acrid Barney’s New York in Beverly Hills into Saks Fifth Avenue. Barney’s (in Los Angeles) is a barren and mean (and beautiful) place to shop. Saks is wealthy, but much more accessible. And that could well be the perfect natural metaphor for this film vs. Steve Martin’s book.

Martin himself did the screenplay, so it seems odd to complain about changes. But you can almost hear the meeting. “Couldn’t it have a B story that gives them both some chance of happiness?” “We saw Lost in Translation, but they didn’t actually do it... no one wants to see a movie with an old man sleeping with a young girl... there has to be some young guy.”

Jason Schwartzman is very likeable here. But the dollop of whipped cream not only fails to cover the story’s natural taste of burnt meat, but it removes that pure flavor that many people seem to like, even if many would prefer to spit it out.

I quite like the performances by Martin and by Claire Danes. And at moments, the direction by Anand Tucker matches the rich, painful, dry detail that Martin’s novella is built on. The lingering close-ups of Danes’ flesh... the detail of the production design... the textures of the sky... are poetic and beautiful.

You can see the outline of Martin’s story here. But what is missing is, for the audience, the Shopgirl as an untouchable, obsessive interest... a possession, who turns out to be all too human. That is what I loved about the book and really miss about the film. Again, this is not to say that much of the new stuff isn’t charming. But it isn’t terribly special either. And it feels like an endless internal fight.

With due respect to Tucker, I would love to have seen Mark Romanek’s take on this book. He has the obsessive interest in textures and raw intimacy that Tucker and Disney has softened almost out of existence.

I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy watching the film... it keep me on the coaster. But I think I would have enjoyed a more uncomfortable ride.


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