Tuesday, November 08, 2005

My so-stalled life: "Shopgirl"

Three things in life are certain: death, taxes and that a bag of sugar has nothing on Claire Danes.

Really, is there a sweeter actress around? I say "actress" because we're just talking about women here. If we consider all actors, well, we know who the sweetest is. Right, Colin Farrell.

Anyway, it was a big weekend at the movies for yours truly. With my better half out of town, I managed to catch a couple of movies on my own. Before she escaped, though, we took in "Shopgirl," which is a fine date movie that I probably would have seen on my own at some point. That's because it (a) has been generally well received and (b) has the lovely and genuine Ms. Danes, who lights up the screen in almost anything. (That is, as long as we agree that "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" never happened.)

For many, Danes always will be the angst-ridden teen of "My So-Called Life," the TV series whose short existence led to a intolerable level of bitching among the tissue-toting set. And to be honest, there's some angst and plenty of heartbreak in "Shopgirl." But Danes is dead-on as a twentysomething Saks Fifth Avenue sales clerk who just wants to be happy. Even though this takes place in Hollywood, it's an all-American story of a woman who wants to find love and finally gets some options but finds neither is perfect.

(Yeah, just go ahead and take away my Manly Man Club membership after reading that.)

As Danes' character -- the improbably-named Mirabelle Buttersfield -- muddles along, we meet Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman), a slacker who nevertheless has enough energy to ask her out. Their date is far from perfect, but Mirabelle lets Jeremy hang around a bit anyway. That is, until she starts dating Ray, a wealthy older man played by Steve Martin. Ray's a little awkward compared with Jeremy's bravado, but he also can pay for stuff and seems decent overall. What the heck, Mirabelle thinks.

As you might guess, she eventually chooses between the men, although not in any showdown-at-high-noon way. The movie is more about Mirabelle discovering what she needs vs. what she can get, how she can get what she needs and who can give it to her. (Follow all that?)

On this level, Danes is great. With each man, she's hopeful things will work out eventually, until she realizes that she also can have some control. That's not easy to represent on screen, but Danes oft-wounded face does it well. Other little touches, i.e. wearing glasses while she drives her pickup around L.A., work well, too.

The men aren't quite as good. I'm still not convinced that Schwartzman's career hasn't gone downhill since "Rushmore." For instance, I did not (heart) Huckabees. He also really annoyed me at the beginning of "Shopgirl," and I'm not convinced it was just his character. Still, I guess he grew on me.

As for Martin, he wrote the movie, which I assume is something of a vanity project. That might explain why he plays the older guy, and why it might have been better for someone else. Sure, Ray had a dry wit at times, but he's mostly boring, and I'm not sure that's Martin's forte. In fact, I kind of wonder if he wanted to ape another aging comic who hit it off with a young woman: Bill Murray in "Lost in Translation." Not the same kind of relationship, true, but still. What's next, Chevy Chase macking with Kirsten Dunst?


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