Sharing Steve :: New Stuff
Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Newsday review of Shopgirl

Newsday (New York)
October 21, 2005 Friday
MOVIE REVIEW; 'Shopgirl': Can't buy her love

(3 1/2 STARS) SHOPGIRL (R) Claire Danes works up sympathy as a romantically myopic sales clerk who is all too willing to be taken in by the lavish attentions of millionaire Steve Martin. Jason Schwartzman is irresistibly unkempt as the spoiler in this gently biting comedy of love and self-delusion, from Martin's novella. Directed by Anand Tucker. 1:43 (some sexual content and brief language). In Manhattan at the AMC Empire 25, Loew's Lincoln Square, Loew's 19th Street East and Loew's Village VII.

In his edgiest star turn since "Pennies From Heaven," Steve Martin plays a poor little rich boy trapped inside the body of a 50-plus-year-old man. Martin's Ray Porter lives in a sexy glass house high in the hills of Los Angeles, where he can gaze down upon the struggling folk of Silver Lake who fly economy and take 25 years to pay off their college loans. He's a bit stiff in the joints with romance, but when he gets lonely, he can always take out his wallet and buy himself a girlfriend.

Which is more or less how he worms his way into the heart of Mirabelle, the eponymous department store clerk of "Shopgirl." Played with relaxed verve and charm by Claire Danes, Mirabelle is a small-town Vermont emigre to L.A. who dabbles in art and guards the ladies gloves counter of Saks Fifth Avenue like a sentry. Since there isn't much traffic on evening accessories, she has lots of time to contemplate the abyss that is her new West Coast life.

Mirabelle is naturally wary when she receives a dinner invitation out of the blue from Ray, accompanied by a costly pair of gloves that she sold him some time earlier. She doesn't know the guy from Adam, and he's old enough to be her father. But he's got her attention. And he's way smoother than the only other guy in her life, Jeremy (a delightfully ramshackle Jason Schwartzman), a socially inept, financially indigent amplifier salesman whose notion of a hot date is to sit outside an IMAX cinema and imagine the wonders they would behold within if only he could spring for tickets.

No contest? Well, in the screwball comedies of yore, Jeremy would be the terminally flawed stooge that the leading lady ultimately throws over for Cary Grant. But Martin, who adapted "Shopgirl's" wise and scrupulously honest screenplay from his novella of the same name, is not letting himself or us off that easily.

The self-delusional mating dance between Mirabelle and Ray is familiar to anyone who has barreled into a relationship with funnel vision, filtering out the messages that don't conform to the scenario one has constructed from a shaky foundation of romantic gestures.

Martin projects the clenched confidence of a man who is used to seducing women with the same close-to-the-vest style and selective candor that's made him so successful in business. It's a brave performance, exposing a personal place of frailty that is usually hidden behind Martin's common mask of affability.

While it's really Mirabelle's story, it's Ray's tightness that lends the film its air of formality. Sometimes the studied gloss of Anand Tucker's direction and Peter Suschitzky's excellent cinematography feels "too done," in the way that Ray describes his home's manicured interiors. Fortunately, Schwartzman's mangy-mutt Romeo is barking somewhere in the wings, ready to rush in and mess up "Shopgirl's" immaculately polished surfaces.


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