From his 2000 novella, Steve Martin writes, produces, and stars in Shopgirl, a bittersweet, but uninspiring look at modern relationships in the City of Angels. This atypical fairy-tale romance, a tender examination of love is illuminated by Claire Danes in the title role, but it proves too elemental despite an elegant production.
We learn of Danes's Mirabelle, from Vermont, living a lonely life in L.A. working at the unfrequented glove department at Saks Fifth Avenue by day. At night, she tries to fulfill an artist's dream. Her romantic expectations are diminishing, though a talk radio program steers her in the direction of male companionship.
Martin's screenplay with periodic voiceover narration has two disparate men coming into Mirabelle's halcyon life. Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman of Bewitched and I Heart Huckabees) is a peculiar guy with little ambition, carrying a bundle of tics on his personality. His look at the world around him is much different than Ray Porter (Martin), a computer executive who is middle-aged and divorced, but is successful and rather engaging. Are these two suitors really alike when all is said and done? Will one of them be capable of the same emotional output that Mirabelle looks to give?
There is detail to the smooth lensing by Peter Suschitzky as many scenes tap into the emotions, some of which are hidden beneath character facades. The process of finding a soulmate is somewhat intelligently, humorously observed. There is some mileage from anti-depressants and self-help tapes, as director Anand Tucker (Hilary and Jackie) nearly complicates it all viewing Martin's prose with a sweeping Jane Austen sensibility. As far as the subordinate characters, there is a flavorful, seductive turn by Bridgette Wilson-Sampras as Lisa, Mirabelle's jealous co-worker.
Martin gives his worldly guy an enigmatic melancholy and Schwartzman, whose Jeremy goes on the road with a rock band that mirrors his life, doesn't internalize the neuroses as far as they seem to go. Even Danes can be unsympathetic at times like Ray and Jeremy, but her luminescence opens up someone worth understanding, from her vulnerabilities to her strong, sexy ways. However, she can't expunge what tangles this trisected love story. Martin and Tucker try to be observant beyond the dialogue from what can change one's perceptions of another, but Shopgirl doesn't offer the kind of possibilities of reaching out and feeling loved that Lost In Translation did.