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Saturday, October 22, 2005

More Shopgirl reviews
The Toronto Star
Oct. 21, 2005. 01:00 AM
Shopgirl: A melancholy fairy tale


Starring Steve Martin, Claire Danes and Jason Schwartzman. Directed by Anand Tucker. 104 minutes. At the Cumberland and Paramount theatres. PG

It is a scene from a fairy tale, which Shopgirl is, in its own wonderfully melancholy way.

Tucked away at the end of a long aisle of women's accoutrements in a Beverly Hills store, dreamily gazing skyward as she waits for the customers who rarely attend, is a young woman in her late 20s named Mirabelle Buttersfield (Claire Danes).

She sells long formal gloves, the kind that women don't much wear anymore. But that fits her lifestyle, which seems of a time and place somewhere over the rainbow. She's come to L.A. from rural Vermont, and resides in a whimsical flat with an up-and-down staircase. She has a pet cat that is almost invisible and drives a pick-up truck she wishes could be that way.

Mirabelle has abandoned all thoughts of excitement in exchange for low stress and regular hours. And yet she yearns for something more. She stays up late taking Polaroid pictures and drawing charcoal sketches for the avant-garde art she produces every six months or so, and occasionally manages to sell.

She is waiting for life to happen to her, rather than seeking to make her own way. And in the tradition of the best fairy tales, life does just that. Before she really knows what is happening, Mirabelle finds herself being courted by two very different men: the scruffy and fidgety Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman), who is close to her age; and the dapper but reserved Ray Porter (Steve Martin), who is a good 20 years her senior.

It is a love triangle of sorts, one the multi-talented Martin has made more apparent in his screenplay than he did in his novella of the same name. But any similarity to Jules et Jim (which director Anand Tucker referenced in Hilary and Jackie, his best-known film) is not only coincidental, but ludicrous.

Jeremy is not right for Mirabelle. A rock amplifier salesman with few ambitions, he's unkempt, a cheapskate (his idea of a movie date is to sit and stare at the marquee) and he's as dopey as a dormouse.

Ray is so much more appealing. A dot-com millionaire with mansions in L.A. and Seattle, a private jet and enough money to make a girl feel like Cinderella every night, he's made Mirabelle the envy of all the other girls at Saks Fifth Avenue, especially bitchy vamp Lisa (Bridgette Wilson-Sampras).

There can be no comparison between Jeremy and Ray, can there? Unless you make love your basis, and assess how well a person gives it as well as receives it. That levels the playing field for this love match.

Recalling Martin's earlier L.A. idylls in L.A. Story and Bowfinger, the movie dreamily views the City of Angels with a similar smiling benevolence — every night is starry in cinematographer Peter Suschitzky's poetic lens — but with a deep sense of longing. There are so many stories beneath the swaying palms and roaring expressways, and so many of them involve people who just want to be loved.

Shopgirl's feathery plot is lifted by three sterling performances.

As Ray, a man as grey as his suits, Steve Martin has never smiled less or seemed more significant. Fans may be taken aback by how forced his humour seems. Ray is not an easy guy to laugh with.

As Jeremy, the restless rocker, Jason Schwartzman has never seemed more yearning.

And as Mirabelle, the woman with stars in her eyes and romance in her heart, Claire Danes has never seemed more fragile, or more appealing. Her eyes fill with wonder and apprehension as she gazes out into that starry distance, wondering if knights ride among the hills of Hollywood.



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