Shopgirl (2005)

by | Apr 25, 2006 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Shopgirl (2005)

Director:  Anand Tucker
Starring:  Steve Martin, Claire Danes, Jason Schwartzman
Studio: Hyde Park Entertainment/Touchstone
Video: 2.35:1 enhanced for 16:9 widescreen
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, English/French/Spanish
Languages: English, French, Spanish
Subtitles:  French, Spanish
Extras:  Director’s Audio Commentary, Evolution of a Novella: The Making of Shopgirl, Deleted Scenes
Length:  106 minutes
Rating: ****

Shopgirl is not your typical adult romance. Based on the absorbing and graceful novella of the same name by Steve Martin – who also authored the script for the movie – Shopgirl can be called a romantic comedy. But it is so filled with poignant moments of heartbreak and sadness and its characters so real, clearly it is not funny in the usual Hollywood sense. This gem of a DVD has that and much more to its credit.

Mostly Shopgirl is about Mirabelle’s emotional odyssey in search of happiness, as well as about the two men who court her – Ray, a man over 50, and Jeremy, close to her in age. Ray and Jeremy , played by Steve Martin and Jason Schwartzman (Rushmore), are polar opposites in every way. Ray is successful and wealthy and meticulous in each part of his life. Jeremy appears utterly hopeless on every level. The evolution of these three is what the movie is about.

The opening scene begins with a sweeping vision of Los Angeles, the camera narrowing its scope until settling on Mirabelle behind the glove counter in a far corner of glitzy Saks Fifth Avenue. Mirabelle is living a solitary, lonely existence, her small apartment in a dreary part of LA Though a college-educated aspiring artist, personable and beautiful, Mirabelle has yet to make meaningful connections. Her loneliness is palpable. And she isn’t the only one. The film is a study in loneliness and examines in a compelling way issues around being close and some crucial differences between women and men. Mirabelle meets Jeremy in a laundromat. His ineptness as a boyfriend and lover is colossal and very funny. One day Ray Porter, the antithesis of Jeremy, appears at the glove counter, ostensibly to purchase gloves for a friend. He initiates a perfectly polished romance. Meanwhile Jeremy has found work with a rock band as a roadie. In this unlikely situation, he begins to listen to self-help tapes and he does not forget Mirabelle during his long absence. Ray is charming and kind and cares for Mirabelle, who falls very hard for him. Ray wants their relationship to be without strings. Just as Ray has his opposite in Jeremy, Mirabelle’s antithesis is the blatantly sexy, conniving Lisa – Bridgette Wilson-Sampras in a small but significantly supporting role.

All the elements of Shopgirl add up to an exquisitely constructed film. The original music is memorable and haunting. The cinematographer has used color to dramatically convey the shifting moods of the film. The acting, direction and script are all first rate. Claire Danes conveys a pitch perfect degree of fragility and elegance well suited to her character. Though the book was better than the film, isn’t that usually the case?  After seeing the film several months ago at the theater, I couldn’t wait to read the novella as was very curious to learn more about these characters and this LA story.

The extras deserve much applause. The Making Of featurette includes interviews with the starring actors, English director Anand Tucker (“Hilary and Jackie”) as well as the cinematographer, costume designer, and production designer who gives an interesting summary of the five “color worlds” Mirabelle goes through. I liked Tucker’s remarks about the movie being like a symphony of emotion, a piece of music, a dance between all of the elements of the film.

Anand Tucker’s audio commentary is one of the best I’ve heard, the first I can recall that kept my interest throughout. His excitement is contagious as he makes a number of references to other films, describes the casting process, working with Steve Martin and the other actors and the crew, analysis of the characters and story (moments of circularity, repetition of motifs, etc.), breaks down each “movement” of the film, etc. Anand’s discussion of how the production design and cinematography express emotion is particularly compelling, terming the film an emotional mood piece. His commentary is fast paced and often funny. Cat lovers will enjoy his “cat wrangling” discussion concerning the two orange tabby cats. He calls his film “an anti-homage to Pretty Woman.” Indeed, everything that film was, this film isn’t! Los Angeles is to the fascinated Tucker “the city of Noir.” Sometimes, he says, Los Angeles is so bright, it hurts. He remarks that if one has given people a lot of laughs, it is hard to succeed in a serious role. Steve Martin does succeed admirably in Shopgirl. In fact everyone connected with the film succeeds in conveying a very human story with style and grace.

– Donna Dorsett


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