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Steve Martin adapted and co-stars in this intriguing 2005 film version of his intimate comic novella, which is a lot more thoughtful than most romantic comedies hitting the screen these days, and yet is never quite as smart or meaningful as it seems to want to be. Claire Danes stars as the elegantly named Mirabelle Buttersfield, a quiet young artist from Vermont eking out a lonely and anonymous existence in Los Angeles selling high-fashion gloves at the upscale department store Saks Fifth Avenue. The isolated Mirabelle is so desperate for any kind of human connection that she reluctantly accepts the clumsy moves of a raggedy young artist, Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman), who is as unkempt as he is socially inept. Before their romantic misadventures hit stride, however, Mirabelle catches the eye of wealthy Saks customer Ray Porter (Martin) and eagerly enters into an affair with the older man, while the dejected Jeremy embarks on tour of self-discovery. As Ray showers her with expensive gifts and gentlemanly respect, Mirabelle holds out hope for the full blossom of an ideal romance despite his insistence that their relationship remain casual and non-exclusive. When Mirabelle stops taking her anti-depressants and dips into deep melancholy, Ray tenderly (fatherly) nurses her, but remains emotionally introverted and is unable to commit in the way that Mirabelle longs for. Directed by Anand Tucker (who spent seven years waiting for the right project after his acclaimed 1998 Jacqueline du Pré biopic Hilary and Jackie), Shopgirl is exquisitely designed with a candied visual artifice (courtesy of cinematographer Peter Suschitzky) that looks at Los Angeles through the lens of a child's snow globe, but it is also carefully intimate and gently moving, allowing each of its characters ample personal space for their rich inner lives. Danes has matured from a precocious teen into an actress of formidable grace and poignant self-reflection, and she effortlessly carries Shopgirl's emotional vitality on her slender shoulders. Martin is good as Ray, taking a few cues from fellow former-SNL cast member Bill Murray's recent career revival playing rich-but-empty womanizers, but the remote Porter necessarily lacks Murray's hard-edged and sardonic self-loathing, allowing Martin to assume a hollow aloofness that is just as sad while requiring less range as a performer. Schwartzman is perfect as the unpredictably maladroit Jeremy, and he's responsible for the film's brightest comic moments. Yet, Shopgirl never quite adds up into as satisfying a tale as its sophisticated and engaging execution seems to suggest. At its core, it's little more than above-average coverage of a tired Hollywood love triangle: Is a girl better off with the cold attentions of a successful older man or the spontaneously sloppy hormones of a bohemian loser? It's like a good art-house remake of 1993's aggravatingly shallow Reality Bites, with deeper characters, richer emotional textures, and some effectively unexpected deviations, but ultimately no substantial surprises where it needs them most. Are these really the only options for a girl like Mirabelle? Martin, who's spent his career playing kind-hearted dupes and dopes, has never been cynical enough to ask questions that fall too far outside convention, and his innocence of narrative holds back Shopgirl from an honesty or resonance to match its other strong qualities. Also with Bridgette Wilson-Sampras, in an uninspired bit of "Three's Company"-caliber comedy, Rebecca Pidgeon, indie musician Mark Kozelek, and, briefly, Sam Bottoms and Frances Conroy, who bizarrely play Mirabelle's parents like zombies on hospice. Buena Vista presents Shopgirl in a good anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras include a commentary by Tucker, the short featurette "Evolution of a Novella: The Making of Shopgirl," and two deleted scenes, one of which puts a new perspective on one of the movie's crucial plot turns. Keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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