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An intelligent, perceptive romance
Having been a longtime fan of Steve Martin as a serious and a comedic actor, as well as a writer, I've been fairly disappointed in some of his more recent films like "Bringing Down the House" and "Cheaper By the Dozen". Thankfully "Shopgirl" is a return to Martin's intelligent brand of dry comedy as well as a return to some of the more serious characters he's played.
Martin (who adapted his own novella for the screen)plays Ray, a wealthy older man who sets his sights on the pretty glove salesgirl, Mirabelle. The much younger Mirabelle (Claire Danes) is struggling to find a place in a city where it seems impossible to find a human connection. She's a shy, smart,struggling artist, who is also being courted by the more age appropriate, but hopelessly immature Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman). The "love triangle" aspect of the story seems take a backseat to Mirabelle's own personal growth.
Jason Schwartzman takes a break from playing weirdos to play an actual human being in Shoipgirl. Yes Jeremy is comic relief, but he's also someone who undergoes a tremendous transformation. Schwartzman portrays this with quirky humor, but also with sympathy.
Initially it seems as if Martin is trying too hard to be serious as Ray, but this evolves into a real performance as an immature older man who is simultaneously awkward and charming.
But Claire Danes is the revelation here. I've been a fan of hers since "My So-Called Life" and I've seen her shine in films that didn't live up to her talent, and I've seen her do well in underrated gems. Hopefully "Shopgirl" won't fall into the latter category. Danes' Mirabelle is intelligent and strong, but also tremendously vulnerable. She doesn't know her own strength. She's smart but her fear of loneliness leads her to do things that she knows are stupid. She's pretty but she wills herself to fade into the background. In short, she's a person with strengths and weaknesses which are written on Danes' always expressive face. She is the heart of the movie. If there is justice in Hollywood (a doubtful proposition) this sinfully underrated actress will get more than just critical acclaim for her performance (an Oscar nomination would be appropriate).
A lot of people have criticized the slow pace of the film and the "unrealistic" nature of the relationship between Danes and Martin. However, the film explores both characters reasons for entering into their relationship which go beyond the stereotypes of "golddigger" and "cradle-robber". The pace of the film doesn't fit with our expectation's of a romantic comedy. But I would hesitate to call it that. Yes there is romance and comedy, but traditionally romantic comedies follow a formula, that "Shopgirl" deviates from. Nor would I call it a romantic drama- it doesn't fit that mold either. Instead it is something unique, subtle, witty, heartbreaking, and a category all it's own.