Claire Danes as Mirabelle Buttersfield
Jason Schwartzman as Jeremy Kraft
Steve Martin as Ray Porter
Bridgette Wilson-Sampras as Lisa Cramer
Frances Conroy as Catherine Buttersfield
Sam Bottoms as Dan Buttersfield
Rebecca Pidgeon as Christie Richards
A romantic comedy from Steve Martin would seem like just what the doctor ordered, but “Shopgirl” isn’t romantic nor particularly funny, so it just falls flat.
Mirabelle Buttersfield (Claire Danes) is a lonely artist living an impoverished lifestyle in Los Angeles and working at the glove department at Saks, when she suddenly finds herself being pursued by two very different men: Ray Porter (Steve Martin), a wealthy older gentleman, and Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman), a clueless young romantic.
I didn’t have a chance to read Steve Martin’s novella before seeing this movie based on his own screenplay, but even after reading it, I’m not sure how an extended short story seemed worthy of being turned into a feature-length film. The fact is that it’s not a very interesting book, and Martin’s embellishments don’t do much to make the movie work as its own entity.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
“Shopgirl” starts by introducing Claire Dane’s Mirabelle, a lonely artist working in the glove department at Saks. She agrees to go on a date with the scruffy Jeremy after meeting him at the Laundromat, although he’s obviously very wrong. Besides never having any money, he dresses poorly, has no manners, and is utterly clueless how to deal with women. At first, it’s cute watching Mirabelle and Jeremy on their awkward first date and slightly less cute when they have their first failed attempt at intercourse. Mirabelle gives Jeremy a few chances, mainly to satisfy her own carnal needs, but then she meets a sophisticated older gentleman named Ray Porter, played by Martin himself, which is where things quickly go south.
I’ll openly admit to being somewhat skeptical and even slightly queasy about the age difference between Martin and his young starlet. Sure, it’s not like there aren’t young women who might agree to date and sleep with rich older menit obviously happens–but that doesn’t make me want to see it on screen. Ray Porter isn’t a particularly sympathetic character, and it quickly becomes obvious that Martin might not even have been the best choice to play him, because he’s turning off the part of himself that people like the most. The role would probably have been better suited for someone like Michael Douglas, who’s good at playing scumbags.
Claire Danes looks quite lovely, and quite nude in one memorable scene, but her performance is a bit lifeless, and most of the time, she seems to be channeling Mary Tyler Moore. You’re never sure whether you should feel bad for her situation with Ray or whether it’s her own fault for being so naïve and stupid.
On the other hand, Jason Schwartzman is hilarious, returning to “Rushmore” territory by competing with another older comedic actor over a girl. He offers most of the film’s best laughs, and you really do want to see Jeremy end up with Mirabelle. After all, it makes perfect sense that Max Fischer would end up with Angela Chase from “My So Called Life,” right? Although Schwartzman is clearly the film’s saving grace, the movie goes off on a tangent when it starts following Jeremy on the road with a rock band after being dumped by Mirabelle for Ray.
No matter how you slice it, “Shopgirl” really isn’t a comedy, which is a shame, because most people will expect more laughs based on the fact that this is Martin’s baby. After all, he is a comedian. Instead, we get a rather bland and uneven romantic drama about people who aren’t interesting enough to carry a story on a long-term basis, which makes you wonder what they might possibly see in each other.
Sure, some of Martin’s ideas work, like when Mirabelle is telling her coworkers about Ray Porter’s commitment to their relationship, just as he’s telling his shrink the exact opposite. It’s an interesting way to show how words and emotions can be misinterpreted. On the other hand, Mirabelle’s need for anti-depressants, which plays a huge part of her character in the novella, is glossed over and introduced matter-of-factly halfway through, as a subplot that is just as quickly discarded and forgotten.
Like Martin’s last screenwriting effort “L.A. Story,” the city of angels plays a large part in the very fabric of this movie’s existence, but “Shopgirl” isn’t nearly as memorable or endearing. The story somewhat works as a novella, but as a feature length film, not so much.
The Bottom Line:
Honestly, I have no idea who might enjoy this movie. Those who liked the book may be disappointed by how much has been lost in the translation to the screen, and women certainly won’t think much of Claire Danes’ character, who is essentially the perfect woman, but only as filtered through the eyes of men.
Shopgirl opens in New York, L.A. and Toronto on Friday.