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Touchstone Home Video presents
Shopgirl (2005)

"Ray, why don't you love me?"
- Mirabelle (Claire Danes)

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: April 26, 2006

Stars: Steve Martin, Claire Danes, Jason Schwartzman
Director: Anand Tucker

MPAA Rating: R for some sexual content and brief language
Run Time: 01h:46m:05s
Release Date: April 25, 2006
UPC: 786936282986
Genre: romantic comedy


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- A-A-B+ B-

DVD Review

The tonier half of Steve Martin's oddly bifurcated career is exemplified by this project, which really is kind of impeccably made, if on a very small scale. On the one hand, the vestiges of the wild and crazy guy remain in lowbrow crowd-pleasing fare like Bringing Down the House and the Cheaper By The Dozen movies; on the other, Martin has become the thinking man's comedian, contributing to The New Yorker, writing wry projects like Bowfinger and L.A. Story, and the slender novella on which this film is based. It's a modest little book, one that will more likely provoke wry smiles than belly laughs, and if it doesn't quite establish Martin as a master of contemporary fiction, it's a far cry from the belly flop that it might have been—if Martin weren't a fine writer, his bravery would have seemed foolhardy, but he pulls it off quite well. (Then again, if a writer without Martin's reputation and success were to submit this manuscript, I'd wager that it wouldn't even get a read, let alone a publisher.)

The movie version does credit to the book, which you need not have read to enjoy the film—there's a bit of preciousness to it, and it may be a little too mainstream for the art house, too arty for the multiplex. But don't let the fact that it falls between stools dissuade you, because it's an endearing movie. Our heroine is Mirabelle, who has moved from Vermont to Los Angeles in pursuit of an ineffable something—her art? her self? true love?—and has found instead only a modest apartment in Silver Lake and a job at Saks Fifth Avenue on Wilshire Boulevard, behind the underused counter where evening gloves are sold. (The merchandise cannot and does not move quickly; it's got to be a story conceit that this is someone's full-time job.) She meets a young man, Jeremy, who sells amplifiers, and he's all awkwardness—self-involved, shortsighted, dumbstruck by Mirabelle's pretty face. The romance doesn't quite hit the ground running, and in the meantime Mirabelle has another suitor: Ray Porter is old enough to be her father, but he's smooth and charming and ready to treat her like a princess.

Though it's based on a book, it is in fact the casting that allows the story to come across. Claire Danes is smart and enchanting as Mirabelle—she's never whiny, never displays self-pity, but brings across Mirabelle's longing for a connection, and her knowledge that this is frequently a hopeless and heartbreaking pursuit. Jason Schwartzman plays Jeremy, and for so much of the story you cannot help but feel—you're encouraged to feel, in fact—that he's not worthy of our Mirabelle. But his goofiness, his obliviousness to her feelings, comes across not as callous, but as immature—and it's kind of nice to see him do some growing up over the running time of the movie.

Martin himself plays Ray Porter, a man whose goal seems to be to keep the world at arm's length. Even if you're not a fan of the tabloids, you can't help but wonder if this is the closest on screen that we've seen to the off-screen Martin—he's older than Mirabelle, and sort of infantilizing, but occasionally a little bit perfect, too, charming and caring and affectionate. Their relationship is at the heart of the movie, and makes manifest all sorts of interesting dynamics: does she feel like a courtesan? Does he want her to? Has Martin crafted the thinking man's legal Lolita fantasy? Even if he has, Martin's performance is restrained and carefully honed—there's never a hair out of place, never a stray bit of emotion or indicating, which makes for a finely crafted character, and of course works to Ray Porter's detriment.

It's got to be intimidating to take the directing reins on a project like this, with Steve Martin as the 800-lb. gorilla—star, producer, screenwriter, novelist—but Anand Tucker gives the movie a lushness and a stylishness that no mere hired hand ever could. He's maybe a little too fond of self-conscious dolly shots, across the L.A. skyline, through people's apartments; but he's got a keen eye, and has assembled a production team that gives the film a sleek, artful, very pleasing look. And what's especially satisfying is that it's a movie that's deeply romantic about Los Angeles, a city about which so many from other places are so cynical, and which Angelenos themselves are too ready to malign. Yes, the traffic is awful, as is the air; race relations are a problem, and so are the schools, and so is the infrastructure. But there's so much about Los Angeles that's delirious and silly and wonderful—it's the place where we go to reinvent ourselves, and to make pretty pictures that everybody wants to look at. It's too much to call Steve Martin its poet, but he's a fine and affectionate advocate for a great city.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Very nice effort on the transfer of a carefully shot movie. Peter Suschitzky's photography is vital to the unfolding of the story, and it's rendered here strongly, with only the occasional discoloration.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
English, French, Spanishyes


Audio Transfer Review: A good, moody 5.1 mix, though the dynamics go a little over the top when Jeremy is on the road with a rock band that's too loud for the room.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
7 Other Trailer(s) featuring Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, Casanova, Annapolis, Eight Below, Grey's Anatomy: Season One, Shadows in the Sun: Everything You Want, Gilmore Girls
2 Deleted Scenes
1 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Anand Tucker
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Director Anand Tucker is fine company on a thoughtful and dense commentary track, covering all the standard subjects: his enthusiasm for the piece, his respect and admiration for Martin and his writing, casting, technical details. He's a relentless storyboarder, apparently, but in the service of allowing the happy accident to happen, not merely to execute a plan on set drawn up on a drafting board. A lot of the same territory gets covered in Evolution of a Novella: The Making of Shopgirl (21m:44s), which includes interviews with Tucker, Martin, Danes and Schwartzman; producer Ashok Armitraj; and production designer William Arnold, among others. It's very much a mutual admiration society going on here, though their enthusiasm for the project seems genuine. The two deleted scenes are modest little character bits about Mirabelle, and must have been cut for purposes of running time.

Extras Grade: B-

 

Final Comments

A smart, wise and deliberately modest film, as much a valentine to Los Angeles as an essay on some truths of the human heart.

 


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