Sunday, August 5, 2012

Too Long To Go For Too Little On A Movie I Wanted To Like: Shopgirl

The Good: All-around good acting, The last lines, Nice direction
The Bad: Terrible characters, Pacing, Overbearing music, Problematic plot
The Basics: In a terrible disappointment, Steve Martin's Shopgirl presents characters who make no sense behaving in a way that is only limited by the conventions of cinematic expectations.

Ever since I read one of Steve Martin's short stories in The New Yorker (reviewed here!), I've had respect for him as a writer and as an artist that I did not have from prior works of his (like The Three Amigos). I liked the improbable film A Simple Twist Of Fate (reviewed here!) in which he was stellar. So, when Shopgirl was released, I was excited, even though I had not read the book. The reviews were mixed and I finally got the chance to see the movie on DVD.

The short of it, and for a change I will be succinct in a review, is that Shopgirl is hugely disappointing. The movie wanders around aimlessly without giving any of the characters enough for us to believe in until Martin's character Ray Porter utters the final lines of the movie. By that point, we simply do not care. By that point, we need Porter to tell us the point because it has not been shown throughout the movie.

Shopgirl tells the story of Mirabelle Buttersfield who is bored working at Saks Fifth Avenue and so she goes on a date with the disheveled Jeremy who is utterly repulsive. This does not stop her from having sex with him, though. Mirabelle is then wooed by the refined Ray Porter who is pretty much the opposite of Jeremy. They date for a considerable time, though when we see them together they seem quite happy and connected, though privately - outside the first morning after they have spent the night together - Ray tells others he is not taking the relationship seriously. Mirabelle and Ray do a great deal together, both romantic and real (he helps her to the doctor's when she goes off her antidepressants), but that does not stop him from having sex with another woman.

The bottom line here is that the movie does not work. We never understand Ray because he's pretty incomprehensible. Near the end of the movie, Mirabelle asks the essential question that we have to wonder why she is asking based on what we see. That is to say, based on what the movie shows the viewer, the couple is doing generally well and seems serious and Ray seems quite into Mirabelle. Apparently, though, he is not and Mirabelle confronts him on that. So all the real character conflict is told to the viewer.

Add to that the pacing is way off. Jeremy leaves for much of the movie and when he returns, the viewer is buggered to figure out why Mirabelle gives him a second chance. And, terribly, his transformation in the film only makes him take on the more material characteristics of Ray, which gives a horrible message. The movie gets slow in parts and the music swells and dominates, as if to attempt to cover a lack of movement.

In fact, all that truly works is the acting. Jason Schwartzman is great as Jeremy. He begins the movie as so thoroughly unlikable I found it agonizing to watch. Steve Martin is suave and sophisticated as Ray Porter. He seems quite comfortable in the role, which makes sense given that he wrote it. But again, he does not show us so much of the character, instead he tells us with his monologues. Which begs the question, why doesn't Mirabelle have voice-overs or why isn't the movie called "Observations of a Mature Emotophile?"

Claire Danes is given the task, then, of saving the film from the title role. Unfortunately, even the talented Danes (who I'm only just now realizing I've only seen previously in Terminator 3) can't save this piece. She is given the task of playing a character who makes no sense and who ultimately is unsympathetic because she appears to live by a simple, deeply flawed truth: there are only two choices before her, therefor there are only two choices.

Mirabelle is only forced to live in the conceit that she must choose between Jeremy and Ray in Shopgirl because it is what is expected. I hoped the film would end - at least a half hour earlier - with her declaring that there were more choices out there and she was going to explore them because she shouldn't have to choose between a man who cannot seem to love her (we are told) and a man who is quite possibly deranged.

This movie, sad to say, is not worth your time. If you want better Steve Martin, watch Simple Twist of Fate. If you want a better romantic story, there's When Harry Met Sally. You might need both to get the taste of this one out of your mouth.

For other works with Jason Schwartzman, be sure to visit my reviews of:
The Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Darjeeling Limited
Marie Antoinette
The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy


For other film reviews, be sure to check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2006 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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