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http://www.excal.on.ca/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=981&Itemid=2
Excalibur Online
Shopping for love in L.A.
Written by Colleen Hale-Hodgson - Assistant Arts Editor
Wednesday, 19 October 2005

Steve Martin creates an insightful story about love and life

Title of movie: Shopgirl
Directed by: Anand Tucker
Starring: Steve Martin, Claire Danes, Schwartzman
Excalibur rating: ****

When Steve Martin isn't wasting his time with poorly produced comedic drivel (Cheaper By the Dozen, Cheaper By the Dozen 2), he's writing surprisingly mature and thoughtful relationship dramas. Shopgirl, originally a novella penned by Martin, appears to be the 60-year-old actor's ticket to a kind of artistic respectability as yet unseen in his extensive career.

Heralded as a love story for adults, Shopgirl follows Mirabelle (Claire Danes), an aspiring young artist who makes ends meet by working at the unpopular glove station in Saks Fifth Avenue. The story explores the two relationships Mirabelle starts, mostly focussing on the one involving Ray Porter (Martin), a much older, richer and emotionally unavailable man than her other admirer, Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman), who's simply romantically inept.

Shopgirl is not your typical "romantic comedy". First of all, the comedic aspects of the film also reveal strikingly insightful life truths. For example, the first time Jeremy and Mirabelle sleep together is awkward and unsatisfying, hardly a movie-like start to a relationship, but sadly common in real life.

Secondly, the obstacles these lovers face within their relationships are far more complicated than the overly constructed love stories in your typical Jennifer Lopez movie. And the ending is certainly no "happily-ever-after".

Danes' vulnerable portrayal of the poor and naïve Mirabelle is garnering some whispers of Oscar glory, but the real standout character is the comedic relief, Jeremy. Schwartzman has proven himself several times over as an indie film star, but he truly shows his metal while playing the painfully hopeless Jeremy.

Martin was perfectly cast as the smooth, yet somewhat creepy, Ray Porter. He plays it so finely that while the audience hates what he's doing to Mirabelle, they still can't hate him.

A fourth lead character can be said to be L.A., the city in which the story takes place. Martin is known for having L.A. as a character in his screenplays, and Shopgirl is no different. The city permeates through every scene, and it allows the emotions of loneliness and isolation to appear strikingly onscreen.

Shopgirl seemed destined for the silver screen. Martin's novella reads much more like a screenplay than it does as a narrative. He prefers to tell the reader what Ray Porter is thinking rather than show them, which is why the story works so much better as a movie. In the novella, the characters aren't as fleshed out as they are in the movie; they're somewhat stale and kept at a distance - almost as if Martin was afraid to let his readers get too close to them.

Anand Tucker, a fairly new director from the U.K., fixes this problem with ease. Utilizing the character- revealing details hinted at in the novella, Tucker skilfully constructs the subtle scenes in which he allows the actors to fully inhibit their characters.

Already drawing comparisons to the other older-man/younger-woman flick, Lost In Translation (which coincidentally also features another Saturday Night Live favourite, Bill Murray), Shopgirl will likely have the same sort of underground popularity that the former movie has. Not everyone will see it, but those who do won't regret it.

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