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Twenty-something native Vermonter Mirabelle Buttersfield, having recently graduated from college, is finding her new life in Los Angeles not quite what she was expecting or hoping. An aspiring artist, she is barely eking out a living working as a clerk at the women's evening gloves counter at Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills and thus she can barely make the payments on her massive student loans. She treats her job with a certain distance, often daydreaming as she watches the life of the rich as they shop at the store. She has made no friends, including from among her Saks colleagues, and thus lives a solitary existence, which does not assist in her dealing with her chronic clinical depression. So it is with some surprise that two men with a romantic interest in her enter her life almost simultaneously. The first is poor slacker Jeremy, who works as an amplifier salesman/font designer. Mirabelle continues dating Jeremy as only a relief to her solitary life, as Jeremy doesn't seem to ... Written by
When Mirabelle turns and walks towards Jeremy after her final meeting with Ray, an aerial shot shows Jeremy to be raising his arms to embrace her. In the next shot, his arms are at his sides. See more »
Edward Hopper was the great painter of urban loneliness. Shopgirl had two perfectly composed and lit shots that could pass for Hopper paintings -- the one where we first see Mirabelle behind the glove counter at Saks, and the one where she solves the problem of how exactly to cross the intimacy threshold with Ray for the first time. Both involve the display of exquisite merchandise to customers who have excellent taste but don't quite appreciate the full value of what's being offered.
The relationship between Ray and Mirabelle is, of course, a transaction. Ray is what used to be called a sugar daddy. He knows it, and within the limits of that role he is apparently a generous and considerate keeper. We aren't given Ray's back story, but it is not hard to guess that a symbolic logician who made a fortune in computers might have been socially challenged, to put it mildly, as a young man, and suffered a good deal of rejection from women. He can now buy what he couldn't then woo, but experience has taught him never to relinquish control and never to let himself be vulnerable. A few hundred million dollars have cleaned up his exterior nicely and given him power over his surroundings, but the inner nerd is still there.
Mirabelle certainly appreciates the value of what Ray can do for her. Consider the shot in Vermont where she gazes at her dried out, prematurely worn mother and decides she'll meet Ray in New York after all. But Mirabelle refuses to admit to herself that she is only being kept. We are meant to think the better of her for her self deception. The sluttish, annoying and frankly mercenary but cheerfully self aware Lisa is there to draw an unfavorable contrast with Mirabelle. Paradoxically, it is Mirabelle's self-deceived integrity, and her refusal to use the crude manipulations Lisa suggests, that make her a more exquisite ornament for Ray -- gourmet arm candy for a man with the finest taste. Both women are punished for self deception, but Lisa suffers only comic humiliation while Mirabelle sets herself up for real pain.
Jeremy has the makings of a Ray in him, but we are meant to believe that he has -- implausibly -- attained emotional enlightenment, if not the capacity for articulate speech or sustained rational thought. He has earned Mirabelle, we are told, because he has remade himself to be worthy of her. Love may not conquer all in this bittersweet anti-romance, but it still does better than break even.
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