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2005 - R - 104 Mins.
Director: Anand Tucker
Producer: Ashok Amritraj, Jon J. Jashni and Steve Martin
Written By: Steve Martin
Starring: Steve Martin, Claire Danes, Jason Schwartzman, Bridgette Wilson-Sampras and Sam Bottoms
Review by: Bill King
Official Site:

I use these to catch flies
'Shopgirl' isn't so much about relationships as it is about loneliness. It introduces its main character, Mirabelle Buttersfield (Claire Danes), situated daily behind her counter at Saks Fifth Avenue, envious of the couples that enjoy companionship, as she watches from an aloof distance with bored admiration. She goes home at night to a small apartment where a long evening of watching television on her futon awaits her. As she sleeps, the camera pulls away, until her place in the city is as small and distant as a blip on the radar screen, lost in a sea of lights and people. She goes it alone in the crowded metropolis of Los Angeles.

The movie examines loneliness from the perspective of three different people. They deal with it in ways that are not always admirable, yet it is an existence that doesn't exactly bring out the best in people. Mirabelle is an aspiring artist from Vermont who didn't meet success right away. Working behind the counter selling gloves isn't her dream job, but it's just enough to pay the bills. One night she meets Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman), an eccentric young man with the habit of saying the wrong thing. His personality indicates that he often scares away potential girlfriends due to his weird behavior, yet he scores a minor victory with Mirabelle. Her perpetual loneliness has assured that she lives by the philosophy of "beggars can't be choosers," so she accepts his unconventional tactics despite her desire for someone with a little more class.

Immediately after meeting Jeremy, Mirabelle attracts the eye of Ray Porter (Steve Martin, who wrote the script based on his novel). He's much older than she, but he's clean-shaven, has money and showers her with affection. The age difference is of no consequence to Mirabelle. Again, beggars can't be choosers, so she accepts his invitation for dinner after a minimal conversation at the workplace. We learn later that Ray has several women on the side. He travels back and forth between his L.A. home and his other residence in Seattle. Mirabelle is someone who can keep him company, something he makes perfectly clear when they define their relationship. They can see other people. There's no love as there is lust. She understands, or thinks she does, because their arrangement gives them something in common. She's lonely, and someone who has money but has to pay for companionship, must be lonely too.

Ray and Mirabelle's romantic interludes continue. By this time, Jeremy had already left town to travel with a band. He's gone for many months, and he uses that time to overhaul his personality. Deep down, he knows he's probably unfit to be with her. He's scruffy and bumbling, though not unkind. His idea of taking her on a date is to go to the Universal CityWalk just to walk. During his trip with the band, he listens to helpful tapes designed to boost confidence. As the months progress, he learns to project a better outward demeanor. He doesn't so much change who he is, but rather eliminates some of his rough edges and bad habits. Even if things don't work out with Mirabelle upon his return, he figures he has still learned how to make a more positive impression.

Like everyone else, Mirabelle can learn from her mistakes, and that includes mistakes made in the throes of her loneliness. Ray brings her instant gratification. It feels good to be needed, but he's inadequate in the long run. He might settle down one day, but when will that be? Staying with him is simply a way of punishing herself, a tendency carried over from her daily battles with the monotony of life as a salesgirl. When she had nobody, she convinced herself she wasn't good enough for anybody. That's why she accepts the terms of the relationship with Ray. If she's not with him, she'll attract loonies like Jeremy.

'Shopgirl' understands that loneliness can be painful, and oftentimes desperate people jump into the wrong kind of relationship. What the film offers its central character is a little bit of hard won wisdom. When she meets the new and improved Jeremy, she is impressed that someone would go through that sort of transformation. He doesn't say he did it for her, but she knows she was the catalyst. There's a great shot near the end that is the opposite of how the movie begins, and reveals that Mirabelle is no longer that blip on the radar. There is someone out there who cares for her, and his attention is all she really requires.
Movie Guru Rating
An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater.
  4 out of 5 stars

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