Saturday, January 21, 2006

SHOPGIRL - truly painful, often pretentious, sometimes funny

I hated SHOPGIRL almost before it began. The opening credits feauture a logo for the production company, "Hyde Park Films". All good, except that the logo features a picture of Tower Bridge?! Sounds petty, I know, but you can't mess around with Zone One iconography and still be my friend. As the opening credits rolled I hated this film even more: melodramatic, irritating orchestral score; pretentious and pointless tracking photography; and a grating faux-naif voice-over from writer/actor Steve Martin. Steve Martin's very existence pisses me off. In 1989, he sold his soul to Hollywood plastic surgeons. Instead of manic comedy we get formulaic remakes and soupy family "entertainment". I introduce Sergeant Bilko and Cheaper by the Dozen 1 and 2 into evidence for the prosecution.

Anyways, back to SHOPGIRL. Steve Martin introduces our heroine, Mirabelle, as she goes about her mundane life. Mirabelle, played by the wonderful Claire Danes, is an aspiring artist who works on the glove counter at Saks Fifth Avenue in LA in order to help pay off her student debt. The movie tells the tale of how Mirabelle is romanced by two men. One is a sixty year old rich lecher played by Martin: the other is a young, hapless, romantic, amplifier-salesman, played by Jason Schwartzman. The scenes involving Martin are truly painful to watch. Danes self-knowledge - her choice to be a victim of this old lecher - is horrible to witness. When Martin touches her naked body, our skin crawls. I know that this is the desired effect but somehow it is done so often and in such a manner that it becomes simply off-putting. Moreover, every time it happens, we have that same over-wheening orchestral score - the same pretentious cinematography. Sure, the film makes some good points about the commoditisation of relationships, but the sheer weight of the pretentious visual and aural imagery loaded onto this slender subject matter threaten to send this movie up its own ass. The only saving grace of the flick - the factor that kept me in the cinema to the end - is Jason Schwartzman's performance. Every time he comes back into frame I breathed a sigh of relief. We were back to sweet, quirky comedy - the natural habitat of the Indie movie.

Overall, SHOPGIRL may be one of the most disappointing movies of 2005. After all, Steve Martin was, once upon a time, a great comedian. Anand Tucker, the director, last graced our screens with the wonderful riff on the life of the du Pre family, Hillary and Jackie - one of my all-time favourite movies. The film is also shot by Peter Suchitzky, the DP from A History of Violence, Spider, Existenz, Mars Attacks, not to mention the best of the Star Wars flicks, The Empire Strikes Back. With so much talent on the roster, it is something of an achievement to have made such an unengaging, frustrating flick. At one point in the flick, the hapless suitor asks Mirabelle, "Can I kiss you or what?" She responds, "The point being?" I left the cinema asking the same question.

SHOPGIRL is on limited release in the US and UK. There is no scheduled release date for France, Germany or Austria.


  1. I HATED this movie. HATED. More than I hated Pearl Harbor. You need to reassess the review. Schwartz. may be good but that hardly compensates for the horror of Martin seducing Danes. But I liked your worst of 2005 list.

  2. Hyperbole! I know you hate Pearl Harbour more. But is highlights an interesting sub-genre of bad movies - "movies so bad even hysterical cameos by Alec Baldwin cannot save them". I cite Elizabethtown, Fun with Dick and Jane and, yes, Pearl Harbour.