Mirabelle (Claire Danes), an artist who has moved to Los Angeles from Vermont, works at the glove counter at Saks Fifth Avenue. She stands at her station, day in and day out, watching the beautiful people spend a lot of money on the expensive dresses displayed around her. After work, she makes the trek back to her small apartment in Silver Lake, maybe works a little on her art, has some dinner, and goes to bed, rested for the next day. Oh, yes. She's lonely as hell and bored out of her mind. One evening, at the Laundromat, she meets Jeremy (Jason Schwartzmann), a struggling logo designer, who asks her out. A couple of days later, Ray Porter (Steve Martin), a wealthy, older businessman stops at her counter and buys some black gloves. That evening, the gloves have been delivered to her door step along with an invitation for dinner.
"Shopgirl", based on the bestselling novella by Steve Martin, who also wrote the screenplay, is remarkably true to the spirit and tone of the book. If you loved the book, you will most likely love the film. If you hated the book, the movie will probably leave you with the same feelings.
Steve Martin is developing into one of those personalities who juggles projects that are close to his heart with the more commercially viable projects that he realizes he has to make, so he can continue to make the other projects. So for every "Cheaper by the Dozen", we get a "Shopgirl". If you are able to successfully vet the `commercial' projects from the more artistic projects, you will be able to enjoy many hours in your local multiplex or in front of your DVD player. Martin has never been a great actor, but he is certainly funny and willing to take chances leading to his participation in films like David Mamet's "The Spanish Prisoner" and "Shopgirl". He wants to strengthen his abilities and show that he isn't simply a `wild and crazy' guy anymore. He is an actor who can do drama, romance, mystery and comedy. If he occasionally has to make films like "Cheaper By The Dozen 2" (yes, the first was so successful, he has made the sequel with Bonnie Hunt, Tom Welling, Hillary Duff and everyone else in tow), it is a small price to pay to allow him to make the better, more artistic projects he clearly loves to make. My suggestion: avoid any sequels, whether Steve Martin is in them or not, unless you hear a lot of great word of mouth or critical praise. This includes the inevitable sequels "Wedding Crashers 2" and "The 39 Year Old Virgin: Before the Big Bang".
"Shopgirl" isn't a simple story, despite what you may believe from the trailer. It paints a complex portrait of life and romance in modern day Los Angeles. This and the fable-like quality pervading the entire film help to make it more memorable.
What the film does really well is accurately portray life in modern day Los Angeles. Mirabelle had dreams, at one point, and seems stuck in the reality of having to work for a living. She devotes what little time she can to her art, but the effort is minimal, hindered by the fact that she has no inspiration in her life. I know that this happens to many people who come out here to "make it big". It is a reality. And the film conveys this well. Because she is so desperate for something, anything to happen in her life, she agrees to go out with the strange Jeremy.
Claire Danes does a great job as Mirabelle. Everything she experiences is real and believable and her character's journey is interesting. We understand why she would jump into the arms of the strange Jeremy; she is extremely lonely and needs physical contact. We understand why she would fall for Ray, a man at least thirty years her senior; he is a knight in tarnished armor who takes her on actual dates. He wines and dines her and buys her clothes and expects little from her. As the relationships get mildly more complicated, she reacts in believable ways. At times, she seems like your younger sister. When she is hurt, you want to put your arm around her shoulder and give her a hug.
Steve Martin is also very good as Ray Porter. One of his more sedate performances, it works well throughout. As the wealthy businessman who spends a lot of time in meetings, traveling from his house in Seattle to his house in Los Angeles, he has little time to connect with anyone on a meaningful level. When he meets Mirabelle, the connection is there, he just doesn't know what to do about it. His old habits occasionally resurface, providing some tension to the relationship.
Jason Schwartzmann is, for me, the weak point in the film. During his first few dates with Mirabelle, he is so over the top it stretches credibility that she would ever consent to go out with this weird guy. He is slightly manic, very nervous and not the most presentable person in the world. Yet, she does give Jeremy her number, they go on a date, which consists of sitting at City Walk (a Southern California monstrosity attached to Universal Studios) and looking at the theater marquee. Miraculously, she lets her loneliness take over and agrees to a second date, of sorts, with him. The performance is so at odds with the rest of the film is seems out of place. The character is necessary to the rest of the story, but he seems pulled straight out of a television sitcom. Strangely, as in the book, this character all but disappears for a long period during the middle of the film. We check in with him occasionally, but it almost seems like Martin had the good sense to get him out of the way so we could concentrate on the two more interesting characters in the film, Ray and Mirabelle.
The film opens and ends with similar shots, sweeping views across the Los Angeles freeway-scape. The millions of car lights bleed together to form a sort of abstract painting. Slowly, the camera pans to the stars in the sky (clearly the work of special effects because it is all but impossible to see that many stars in Los Angeles) and slowly moves in on a window in the middle of a sky. Looking through the window, we look down on Mirabelle in her bed. Later, as Ray makes one business trip after another, we follow him into his private plane, as he sits thinking about his life. The camera pans to the window and looks out on a field of clouds. These sequences set the tone for the film, making the story seem like a fable. I would almost call it a fairy tale, but the characters make some decisions along the way which seem hard and remove the overall rosy glow of a "fairy tale", so fable seems to fit. These people are in the real world, but the story is slightly romanticized.
At times, "Shopgirl" almost resembles a play adapted to film. Many scenes involve just Mirabelle and either Ray or Jeremy. In this case, this isn't a bad thing, because it helps to show how insular each of the character's lives are. They don't have a lot of interaction with others, which is why they are so intent on trying to create a relationship with each other.
"Shopgirl" is a good, faithful adaptation of the book and presents an interesting story about three people who form a relationship and bond.