Friday, November 04, 2005

Shopgirl—Try to Resist Its Charm

If you've followed the trajectory of Claire Danes' career, from her youthful star turn as the object of teen angst in the short-lived My So-Called Life to her minor role as Meryl Streep's precocious daughter in The Hours, you won't be surprised to see her performing radiantly and fully self-possessed in Shopgirl, the film adaptation of Steve Martin's 2001 novella of the same name. What may be surprising, however, is how strikingly beautiful she has become as she's migrated through her 20s. Through the lens of Peter Suschitzky's camera, shadows fall across the planes of the actress' face creating a seductive landscape equal to that of the captivating city in which the story unfolds.

The film follows Mirabelle (Danes)—a Vermonter struggling to stay afloat emotionally, spiritually, and financially—through an endless progression of ho-hum days in the urban wilderness of Los Angeles. Her seemingly uninteresting life is set off-balance and into a dreamlike existence when she meets Ray Porter (Steve Martin), a wealthy, divorced, and emotionally unavailable admirer. While they first meet at the Saks Fifth Avenue department store counter where Mirabelle sells expensive gloves, Ray soon introduces her to his world of privileged wealth. In their brief love story, youthful inexperience and naiveté and middle-aged worldliness collide changing both their lives in ways neither imagined.

Each is appreciative of what the other has to offer. Mirabelle infuses Ray's life with vitality and warmth—the intangible, yet abundant, gifts of youth. Ray, lacking the emotional reserves to feed Mirabelle's hunger for intimacy, offers her sustenance that will allow her to pursue her artistic explorations unfettered by financial burdens.

Hovering on the periphery of Mirabelle and Ray's central story is Jeremy, whom she meets early in the film at a laundromat. In a serendipitous casting reversal, the evanescent Jason Schwartzman replaced Jimmy Fallon in the role of Jeremy. Schwartzman may be familiar to many from his role in Rushmore opposite Bill Murray. In that film he was the quintessential geek. Ever since, Schwartzman has brought to his film projects a quirky presence that is an irresistible combination of awkwardness and nervous tics. His Jeremy is clueless in the face of romance and nothing about his early interactions, with the exception of his obvious adoration of Mirabelle, fills her with confidence. On the surface, the unkempt and socially challenged Jeremy is completely eclipsed by Ray, the embodiment of sophistication and style.

"I will protect you. I will."
When it's fully clear to Mirabelle that Ray does not possess the emotional depth to satisfy her, she reunites with Jeremy, who has undergone a metamorphosis of his own. Courteous, attentive, and smitten by her, Jeremy gives every indication of being Mirabelle's emotional equal. It's clear, during a scene late in the film where Mirabelle's melancholy artworks are displayed at a high-profile gallery opening and Jeremy proudly exclaims, "My girlfriend did these!" that he will indeed protect her, and love her.

Shopgirl may not linger long in the imagination, but it's a little piece of cinematic prose that reminds the viewer of the sweetness and excitement of being adored by somebody older and infinitely more experienced, as well as the thrill of love between two people on common ground, where each participant is capable of giving and receiving in equal parts.