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Shopgirl - Preview

Claire Danes and Steve Martin in Shopgirl

Preview by Jack Foley

STEVE Martin has become so lost in schmaltzy family movies of late that it’s difficult to remember he is actually a very talented artist. Shopgirl looks set to provide that reminder.

Based on his own best-selling novella, the film stars Martin himself, as well as Claire Danes and Jason Schwartzman. Danes plays Mirabelle Buttersfield, a shopgirl and aspiring artist who works in the glove department of Saks Fifth Avenue in LA.

Having moved to the city from Vermont, Mirabelle has begun to feel lonely and has trouble connecting with people in a place as isolated as LA. In a bid to enliven her life, she therefore accepts the awkward advances of a clueless but kindly slob, Jeremy (Schwartzman) she meets while doing her laundry. But almost immediately, she then encounters a wealthy older man in the form of Martin’s charming Ray Porter and begins an unlikely relationship with him.

The ensuing film unfolds over the course of a year, as Ray treats Mirabelle with the kindness, respect and style she craves without necessarily reciprocating her love; and Jeremy goes out on the road with a band and begins his own journey of self-discovery.

Cleverly written and acutely observed, Shopgirl has done well on the festival circuit and was generally well received by critics in America when it opened. The film is directed by Anand Tucker, who caught the attention of Martin on Hilary & Jackie. It opens in the UK in January.

Of the reviews in America, among the most positive was the Los Angeles Times, which wrote that it ‘Shopgirl is a wistful account of the yearlong love affair between a 50-year-old millionaire and a lonely, debt-saddled service sector serf in her 20s’.

The Denver Post stated that it is ‘a faithful and engaging adaptation, adding Martin’s skills as a screenwriter and actor to his fiction talents’, while The Chicago Sun Times found it to be ‘a tender and perceptive film’.

Variety, meanwhile, wrote that it was ‘a smartly reconstituted yet largely faithful adaptation of his precisely crafted novella about the mixed signals, misinterpretations and melancholy life lessons that define bittersweet romance’.

And The Philadelphia Inquirer stated: “It’s delicate stuff, and it’s been brought to the screen with grace, humor and a mood that’s wonderfully (here comes another of those film review words) bittersweet.”

Less positive was the New York Daily News which felt that ‘Martin is so flat and uninteresting in the role, you have to imagine charms that aren’t apparent. There is no chemistry between the characters, because Martin brought no chemistry to the set’.

While Arizona Republic lamented: The movie isn’t downright bad, but it’s disappointing and forgettable, failing to emulate Allen or anybody else worth a darn.”

But the final word goes to The San Francisco Chronicle, which concluded that Shopgirl is ‘a film of wisdom, emotional subtlety and power’.