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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Once upon a time there was a Shopgirl

Published: November 11, 2005
Section: Arts, Etc.

The sound of music that is meant to tug at your heartstrings fills the theater and, as sweeping shots pan over Los Angeles, you get a distinct sensation that you are about to be taken on a ride. And, in fact, you are, but its not exactly the type of ride you might expect. As you fly into a Saks store and slowly rise up through the levels, you at last come to rest on a girl standing behind the glove counter. There she is, the shopgirl.

From the title, this movie sounds like a chick flick and in a way, it is, but a slightly unorthodox one. Mirabelle Butterfield (Claire Danes), the shopgirls proper name, is not the typical main character. She doesnt really have girlfriends that she talks to about her romantic interests (although she does share a little with some of the other girls who work at Saks) and she herself is something of a mystery. Because she does not say what she is thinking, its difficult to understand her motives, which I like. Although the movie purports to be a tale about one lone girl in a city of millions, it actually has much more to say than it openly admits. In some ways, it is like a fairytale, complete with narration by Steve Martin. At those times, there is plenty of story-like exposition that may annoy the casual watcher, but which does actually fit the contrast of the film. It is purposely set up as a tale, and yet the things it portrays are very, very real.

If youve ever experienced an emotion similar to the ones that the characters in the movie are experiencing, chances are it will hit home for you. Mirabelle is entirely alone, across the country from her home in Vermont, working a boring job that means nothing to her, trying to connect to people and failing to do so. When she meets a sort of socially inept guy, Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman), in a Laundromat, she begins to leave her loneliness behind her but she does so only because hes the only person reaching out to her. She agrees to go out with him, which provides some of the comic relief in the movie as they sit outside of a movie theater and he tells her that this is their date, sitting and watching the florescent glory of the Cineplex. And the comic relief with Jeremy is definitely needed in a movie that can play on more intense, raw emotions.
Mirabelle ends up, however, in a relationship with Ray Porter (Steve Martin), a rich older man who hits on her in a classy way at the glove counter. She agrees to go out with him because she keeps wanting to connect, and the narrator takes over on their first date, explaining what is happening as it plays out on screen, which is odd and a little unnecessary. And while I like the film, I still find Mirabelle and Rays relationship uncomfortable due to not only the vast age difference, but also the roles they play in the relationship. He plays her father figure in some ways, buying her gifts and even paying off her loans, and she in return is like the doting daughter. And yet they have sex, and often. I think its meant to be a little uncomfortable, and all a part of the idea that theres something not quite right with their relationship, specifically revolving around the idea of love.

And thats where the movie hits home. Jeremy, Ray, and Mirabelle all have stories that weave in and out of the movie and other characters lives, and at least I, but presumably most people who watch this film, will see some aspects of themselves in these characters and their situations. If youve ever been in a relationship where the feelings are unequal, been depressed, or tried to better yourself on any of the other bigger issues hidden inside this little story, youre most likely going to feel like the movie got it right. And while Shopgirl does end with some of the classic clichs of Hollywood movies, theres something about it that aims a little higher and makes it a movie worth going to see. Its not just a story about love where Once there was a girl named Mirabelle and she lived happily ever after but a movie that can actually make you feel not only like it might happen to you, but that these things have happened to you. Shopgirl reaches out to its audience so return the favor and catch this quirky and entertaining film.