by Kevin Carr
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|| MOVIE: ***1/2 (out of 5 stars)
DVD EXPERIENCE: *** (out of 5 stars)
Steve Martin as RAY PORTER
Claire Danes as MIRABELLE BUTTERSFIELD
Jason Schwartzman as JEREMY KRAFT
Bridgette Wilson-Sampras as LISA CRAMER
Directed by: Annand Tucker
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Let me start my review of “Shopgirl” by dispelling a myth. This movie isn’t a romantic comedy. Oh, it’s got romance (sort of), and it’s got comedy (sort of), but it’s a far cry from the standard romantic comedy.
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The critics went ga-ga over it, as they did with “Something New” earlier this year, praising the film as a romantic comedy. There’s even a quote from Christy Lemire of the Associated Press on the cover box: “One of the smartest, funniest romantic comedies in a long time.”
Well, that may be so for Christy Lemire, but your standard moviegoer shouldn’t rent this film hoping for something you’d see in the cineplex starring Reese Witherspoon or Sandra Bullock. The nasty truth is that critics as a whole hate romantic comedies – at least the ones that Hollywood cranks out. So when they rave about a romantic comedy, you can bet it really isn’t one.
With all that said, “Shopgirl” wasn’t a bad movie. It plays out much more like an independent film in which the main character must overcome angst and self-doubt to empower herself into a more meaningful relationship. It is based on a novella by Steve Martin, but again don’t check it out expecting his character to be a wild and crazy guy from Czechoslovakia. This is the more mature, soft-spoken, somber Steve Martin. Again, funny in his own right, but quite different from what he’s famous for.
The story follows Mirabelle (Claire Danes), a mildly depressed artist with very little social life, working at Saks Fifth Avenue in L.A. After a date famine, she finds herself being fought over by two very different men. One is Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman), a delightfully irritating slob who isn’t ready to work for her love. The other is Ray Porter (Steve Martin), a wealthy businessman who can give her everything she wants, except for full commitment.
The movie is undoubtedly Mirabelle’s story, and Danes does a fine job walking us through her life. Steve Martin is also very appropriate in a role he created without ever having himself in mind. However, all the best moments seem to go to Schwartzman, whether he’s waxing poetic about the latest font he designed or he’s bagging Bridget Wilson-Sampras when she mistakes him for Ray.
Rather than being a labeled a romantic comedy, “Shopgirl” is more of a coming-of-age drama for Mirabelle. Yes, she’s in her 20s, but she still has to grow up. And, like many girls often do, she learns the good, the bad and the ugly parts of life from an older man. We watch Mirabelle’s transformation from homely waif to a mature woman throughout the film.
Annand Tucker does a fine job as director, putting together a truly beautiful film with plenty of thought and creativity. In many ways, “Shopgirl” is a work of art that you can view as you would a painting in a museum. It’s not a gripping story, and the characters (while loveable in many ways) have plenty of faults.
The DVD includes an audio commentary by Tucker, which is interesting and information when he’s not gushing over the actors. There are some deleted scenes that aren’t much to write home about. The best extra, though, is the “Evolution of a Novella” featurette that describes the arduous path that “Shopgirl” took from book to movie.
Specifications: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. Widescreen (2.35:1), enhanced for 16x9 televisions. French and Spanish language tracks. French and Spanish subtitles. English language subtitles for the hearing impaired.