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Shopgirl (7/10)

by Tony Medley

Steve Martin was 0 for a career with me as far as movies are concerned. I’ve never seen a Steve Martin movie I thought rose to the level of mediocrity. This one starts out horribly. Mirabelle Buttersfield (Claire Danes) is a beautiful shopgirl at Sax Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills, but lonely as a blade of grass in the Sahara, which in itself is a little hard to swallow. But there she is in a Laundromat folding her clothes when the scruffiest guy you’ve ever seen, Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman) hits on her. What makes it harder to swallow is that she responds. This guy is not only scruffy, he’s dirty and disheveled and inarticulate. But he ends up bedding her.

Later Ray Porter (Martin, who also wrote and produced) hits on her at Sax. She responds to him, too. For a gal who looks like she’s refined and moral, she apparently has a hard time saying “no” to any man, which makes the subsequent story kind of stick in your throat, too.

After their first night together, Ray tells her the facts, that he wants to see other people and just see her occasionally. Cut to Mirabelle telling her friends about her new boy friend. She hasn’t heard what Ray actually said, but heard something completely different, and the movie takes a definite turn for the better.

So after a half hour I was disgusted and squirming. But then the movie does a complete turnaround and becomes a relatively sensitive story of a man who is so fearful of losing control that he can’t recognize emotional attachment when he falls into it.

Which brings us to the basic fault of this film. Like many in Hollywood, it confuses sex for love. Ray and Mirabelle do little more than sleep together and have him give her gifts. Is that enough for love? Maybe in Hollywood, and maybe that’s why there are so few successful marriages in Hollywood. There’s more to love than sex, something Hollywood doesn’t seem to understand because this movie is not unlike other Hollywood film “romances,” in which the characters are never shown having anything in common, but do like sleeping together. So, in order to enjoy this film, you must accept the premise that Ray could be in love with Mirabelle, and vice-versa, based solely on sex and money.

Jeffrey hooks up with a rock group in another gaping plot hole. He’s a backstage sound technician who comes to the rescue when a speaker goes out. So the lead singer asks him to accompany them on their nationwide bus tour, not because he’s a technician, but because the guy likes him. How would he know if he likes him, since they’ve never had a conversation? Even so, it changes Jeffrey’s life.

There’s a mystifying shot of the rock group’s bus charging through a stop sign on a highway in the country. I couldn’t figure out if this was just a sloppy stock shot, because it had little relevance to the movie, or was intentional. If so, what’s the message they’re trying to send? It was beyond me, so I’m assuming it was just sloppiness. Maybe the second unit director didn’t see the stop sign.

After a terrible first half hour, the movie picks up in the second hour and actually becomes entertaining.

November 8, 2005