By William Wolf

SHOPGIRL  Send This Review to a Friend

When all is said and done, by the end of “Shopgirl” the main emphasis is on the regrets of the older, wealthy businessman, Ray Porter, played by Steve Martin. The film is also concerned with the quest for happiness by the shopgirl, Mirabelle Buttersfield, portrayed touchingly by the lovely Claire Danes, but the man’s situation is at the forefront, which makes sense, since the film so ably directed by Anand Tucker was written by Steve Martin based on his novella and shows the kind of wise perspective that a mature writer can provide. The result adds up to a gentle romantic story with intelligence in the way it entertains us, although viewers may feel either satisfaction or disappointment in how it turns out, depending on one’s personal romantic inclinations.

That a film offers such possibilities is in itself a plus. Mirabelle is a pretty woman who hasn’t reached her full potential as she works behind a glove counter at Saks Fifth Avenue in its Beverly Hills branch. She really wants to be an artist, and she also hungers for a man to love her, or at least wrap his arms around her and have sex with her. Pitifully, she has a go with a jerky young man named Jeremy, played amusingly by Jason Schwartzman. Although smitten by Mirabelle but unable to express himself properly, Jeremy hasn’t reached his potential either but has plans for improvement. Therein is a major part of the tale.

Mirabelle’s life brightens when the suave, older Ray Porter begins to date her, shower her with gifts and bed her. The relationship has the earmarks of a young woman’s dream. But Ray is a person who fears commitment, which explains the way in which he hurts her even as they have drawn close, and why he masks his deepening feelings for her with his announced determination to keep matters casual. Meanwhile, Jeremy lurks in the wings.

The role of Jeremy is one Martin might have played in his younger days, only it would have been broader in the comedy department. Here, Jeremy’s awkwardness is drawn with restraint and sympathy. As for Ray, Martin is at the right age and astuteness as an actor to make it credible that Mirabelle would fall for him and to make one wish the relationship would work.

Tucker succeeds in giving the film a smart contemporary ambience. He and Martin as the screenwriter provide enough humor to make the film amusing as well as romantic, as, for example, when Mirabelle’s sexy co-worker tries to steal Ray in a plan that goes hilariously awry. “Shopgirl” becomes an enjoyable film about needs, love, loss and choice. I had a good time but left with qualms about the way it all turns out, not that it was necessarily wrong for the film, but because the resolution wasn’t what the romantic soul in me preferred. A Touchstone Films release.


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