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
"Shopgirl" is an off-kilter modern romance. It plays on several conventions of movies, from the old-fashioned "The Shop Around the Corner" to the fairy tale "Pretty Woman," but takes surprising turns away from those stereotypes.
The look and sound of the film are half of its appeal, from Peter Suschitzky's dreamy cinematography, to the production and art design that has each character in their own color scheme, to the enthralling score by Barrington Pheloung, though the atmospherics almost overwhelm the three characters who frequently seem like pieces in a set design as the camera slowly glides back to reveal an entire mise en scene.
Claire Danes is radiant and holds our eye and sympathy throughout the film, as we see life mostly from her first naive than wiser perspective, though she is portrayed as just about the last sweet young woman in the country, as all the other women seem pretty cold-blooded. While she has an underlying problem common to such in TV and movies these days, it is handled surprisingly visually and tenderly.
Over fourteen months, she encounters a bumbling young suitor, the adorably scruffy Jason Schwartzman, who even as his character matures retains endearing enthusiasm and quirks, and a sugar daddy in a somewhat mysterious Steve Martin, who is more believable than "Sex and the City"s similar "Mr Big." Ironically, the few physical comedy scenes are with Schwartzman, not Martin-- and that's a very funny scene about a condom, as this film in its quiet way is pretty frank about sex.
An occasional voice-over narration is obtrusive and unnecessary, even as Martin's adaptation of his novella claims the need for an omniscient observer, but the camera and the characters' body language visually communicate the same information. The sudden insertion of a parallel scene where two main characters suddenly explain themselves to listeners who we didn't know previously existed in their lives is a bit too convenient and doesn't really fit.
But the film is on the whole winning, as each character very gradually learns about who they are and who they can be, about the meaning of life, love, success and human connections, and about the clear-eyed choices they can make to attain these, to change or not. While the bulk of the film is set in Los Angeles, it feels like a picaresque journey of discovery as they go from one scene to another.
The song selections are marvelous, particularly Mark Kozelek's varied twists on different genres to reflect the different characters. It's a cute joke to have Schwartzman's "Jeremy" as a roadie when he has been on the road with Phantom Planet.
The costume design by Nancy Steiner is lovely; clearly the shopgirl was using all the discounts available to her at Saks even before a paternalistic benefactor picks up the tab.
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