This month’s theme was hatched after yet another person with better taste than me recommended that I add the 2005 romantic drama Shopgirl to my queue. Looking for nine more films with similar themes, “Chopsticks”, “Slacker” and “Fitting Room” were all considered and rejected before I settled on “May December Romance”. So in the month of December, I’ll take a look at love separated by much more than just six months on the calendar.
Directed by Anand Tucker
Screenplay by Steve Martin, based on his novella
Produced by Ashok Amritraj, Jon Jashni, Steve Martin
As dazzling as Christmas pageant and equally bloated, Shopgirl is blessed and dogged by its formality. Not exactly an autobiographical account, Steve Martin drew on 25 years of relationships for a novella, published in 2000. A film version was set up at Lakeshore Entertainment, with director Anand Tucker and actress Claire Danes attached. Thrown into turnaround, film rights were picked up by Ashok Amritraj, who was sold on the property while working with Martin on Bringing Down the House in 2002. The former tennis pro’s production company Hyde Park Entertainment had a deal with Touchstone Pictures and once Jason Schwartzman took a role vacated by Jimmy Fallon at the last minute, they had a movie. A 45-day schedule commenced October 2003 in Beverly Hills and Silverlake. Several of the interiors were filmed at Delfino Studios in Sylmar.
Steve Martin had gambled on Englishman Mick Jackson to direct his script L.A. Story and 14 years later, the Thailand born, U.K. bred Anand Tucker certainly brings a European depth to Martin’s material. Deliberately paced and nearly devoid of chuckles, the approach is eye popping, a poor man’s David Fincher for better or for worse. Claire Danes & Jason Schwartzman are superbly cast as L.A. lovers who meet a year too soon, but Martin’s subdued older gentleman intrudes like an afterthought from a previous draft. Shopgirl is worth watching for Danes, whose gifts of refinement seem rarely in demand for high concept Hollywood these days. David Cronenberg’s frequent DP Peter Suschitzky provided the carnivale lighting scheme, though the musical score by Barrington Pheloung suggests something heartbreaking is set to occur at any moment.
In Beverly Hills, Mirabelle Buttersfield (Claire Danes) is relegated to working the lonely 3rd floor of Saks Fifth Avenue, where she sells the antiquated women’s garment of hand gloves. Returning to her plain apartment building in Silverlake, Mirabelle dedicates herself to etchings, which she sells here or there to local art galleries. The Vermont native otherwise toils in obscurity, hoping someone important heralds her unique talent. At the Launder Land coin-op laundry, Mirabelle instead meets the slovenly Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman), a fellow artist who stencils fonts of his own design onto amplifiers. After an awkward first date totally devoid of chemistry, she throws Jeremy’s phone number in the trash. Succumbing to loneliness, Mirabelle initiates a sexual tryst that ends up being cut short by her reclusive house cat.
Back at Saks, Mirabelle receives a customer in the silver haired Ray Porter (Steve Martin), whose reserved approach and taste in shoes catch her eye. The mystery man sends Mirabelle a gift of gloves attached to a dinner invitation, which she accepts after he pays her work station another visit. A Seattle logistician who rents a home in Los Angeles so he won’t have to spend time packing when visits, Ray plays it proper with the emotionally maturing Mirabelle, making a speech the morning after they consummate their affair that his job doesn’t permit a long-term relationship. Mirabelle translates this as Ray planning on being with her long term as soon as work permits it. While Ray continues to keep Mirabelle at arm’s length, Jeremy follows her advice, showing some initiative in his field. Finding great success, he returns to Mirabelle a man.
Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 17,747 users: 51% for Shopgirl
Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: 62 for Shopgirl
What do you say?