One of the major mistakes made by the filmmakers here is allowing Steve Martin to adapt his own novella. Oh sure, Martin has written novellas before; he's adapted screenplays; he's written original screenplays; he's an actor; he's a comedian; he's a licensed sous chef. Everything points to him having obvious qualifications for this. Unfortunately, he's simply too close to the material. He shouldn't have anything to do with the writing of the film and he shouldn't act in it. The whole thing is taken way too seriously and it's a movie that would have benefited from a much lighter touch.
Martin's first mistake is the narration. It's a movie. Audiences don't need narration. They don't need to be told what's going on or how to feel or what the meaning of a particular scene is. If a movie needs to tell the audience how to feel, that's what we call, in the film critic business, a failed movie. Sometimes we call it a fucking failed movie, but it all depends on the length and presumption of the narration. Martin or director Anand Tucker seems to think we need the meaning handed to us on a silver platter and we don't. It's not that hard to understand.
From the second the movie opens, we know it's going to go overboard because the music is dreary and complex and serious as it travels through a department store and eventually stops on Mirabelle (Claire Danes), a kind of clueless-looking, semi-bored shopgirl in a Saks Fifth Avenue department store in L.A.
Just to reemphasize a point that needs reemphasizing: I don't care about L.A. or the people in it. I think it goes without saying that unless you're directly involved in the film business, it's an utterly idiotic decision to move from Vermont to L.A., as Mirabelle does. Frankly, I think that goes for anybody who moves to L.A. regardless of her profession.
Mirabelle's first date in L.A., as far as we can tell, occurs with Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman), the kind of funny, idiosyncratic character we love in the movies but whose larynx we wish we could rip out and toss in the gutter in real life. He's immature and weird and Mirabelle sleeps with him and regrets it, prompting her to accept a dinner invitation from a customer, Ray Porter (Martin), whose age seems an initial roadblock. Their relationship would appear to be a thinly veiled sex for money exchange, but Mirabelle hopes it turns into more while Ray doesn't appear to be capable of a truly loving relationship.
The conclusion of this painfully slow, plodding movie is something along the lines of "growth is possible." It's not much more than that. Is that profound? It's certainly not profound enough to waste your money seeing "Shopgirl."
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