"Shopgirl" is adapted by Steve Martin from his own novella. The film is seemingly about Mirabelle Butterfield (Claire Danes) and the loneliness and disillusionment that comes with transcontinental transplantation. She is a twentysomething girl who has left her family in Vermont for the lights of Los Angeles. However, her dreams of becoming a successful artist are delayed by such things as student loans and mental illnesses. Mirabelle is lonely. When first we see her, she is standing alone behind the glove counter at Saks. She appears poised and professional, much like she wishes to be, but behind the counter, we see her slouching and removing her shoes when no one is looking. Mirabelle goes home each night to a lonely little apartment. Even her cat ignores her. But the film is not really about Mirabelle. Rather, it is about the two men who fall for her. Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman) and Ray Porter (Martin) are vastly different men. I use the term men loosely because neither of them really know how to step up and really be the kind of man a woman, like Mirabelle, needs. Jeremy is a man-boy. He is about the same age as Mirabelle, and he too is an aspiring artist, sort of. His apartment and clothes show that Jeremy has not fully left adolescence behind him. Jeremy meets Mirabelle at the laundy mat. Ray Porter is a wealthy fiftysomething divorcee. Ray meets Mirabelle at Saks because, as a logician, he is the type of person who can afford to shop at Saks.
Through Mirabelle, the film highlights the differences between these two men. Jeremy really cares for Mirabelle, but he has no idea how to be a "gentleman." When picking her up for a date, he honks the horn, and even then she must wait for him to clean the trash out his car before she can get in. He only takes her to the movies once she agrees to buy her own ticket. He has no clue how to treat her like a lady, and he is still shy and awkward around her like a schoolboy with a crush. This is highlighted in the hilarious phone call scene. Ray Porter, on the other hand, knows all the right moves. Whereas Jeremy first asks Mirabelle out by mooching change off her for the dryer, Ray Porter buys her a pair of elegant gloves from Saks. He walks her to the door and waits for her to go in. Ray is always a "gentleman," but he does not care for Mirabelle. He is only interested in having sex with her.
Through a series of self help audiobooks and a long bustrip, Jeremy learns how to treat a woman. Ray, however, never learns how to truly love a woman, and he realizes this. He tells Mirabelle that he likes to buy her things because that is easy for him, but he does little else for her. I often felt like Ray was using the power of his age and money to take advantage of Mirabelle. Martin plays Porter so that he comes off ambiguously creepy. The change in Jeremy and the lack of change in Ray are highlighted in two scenes. Near the end of Ray's relationship with Mirabelle, the two are seen in bed together. Ray has reached over and placed his arm on her. Once Jeremy has undergone his character change and is reunited with Mirabelle, the two are scene sleeping together with Jeremy completely holding Mirabelle next to him. Now this may seem insignificant, but earlier in the film, Mirabelle is listening to radio psychologist Dr. Joy Browne talk about the different ways a man can hold a woman postcoitally. She lists at least four different ways and ranks them. Ray's way does not rank high. The way Jeremy holds Mirabelle is described by Dr. Browne as the way that will make a woman feel most loved and "fully like a woman."
For me, the highlight of this film was the dichotomy between the two men. I liked the character of Jeremy the most and really enjoyed seeing him change. The film contained a haunting score and a fitting soundtrack. Claire Danes is adorably captivating. Jason Schwartzman and Steve Martin are both capable of being hilarious even in more dramatic roles. But you already knew that about them all (if you didn't, see TV's "My So-Called Life," "Rushmore," and "Parenthood" respectively). The film is a fascinating mixture of realism and stylism. It seems to have a lot to say about love and relationships, but it never hits you over the head with it. Rather, it leaves it up to you to decide.
I love your comment about a mixture of realism and stylism. I think that is something that i picked up on but did not know how to put into words. I think our reviews ont this movie, more than any of the others, highlights our gender differences. I was amazed about the different themes we saw.