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Shopgirl Review

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A young woman (Danes), bored with her work, relationship and life, is swept off her feet by an older divorcee (Martin). Then she meets a young, disorganised but attractive misfit. As the relationships progress, it doesn't get any easier to choose...

★★★★★

Just as Bill Murray has set out to prove his worth as a credible actor, with the introspective likes of Lost In Translation and Broken Flowers, so Steve Martin has done the same. True, the former Wild And Crazy Guy has been experimenting with serious roles for longer (witness his terrific performancein The Spanish Prisoner, for example), but it’s only with Shopgirl that the parallels between his career and Murray’s become apparent.

In this uneven but charming comedy-drama (based on Martin’s own novella) he plays the kind of eccentric, middle-aged loner we’ve become used to seeing Murray tackle lately — and in doing so he bags his best role in years. Not that, given his recent CV, that’s too much of an achievement (Cheaper By The Dozen? Bringing Down The House? We rest our case), but it’s still nice to see him do something a bit more challenging. In fact, the wild and crazy aspect of this three-hander is left to Jason Schwartzman, who almost steals the film from under the noses of his co-stars. As Jeremy, who loves, and then loses, Claire Danes’ Mirabelle, he plays the kind of goofy but loveable weirdo you could almost imagine Martin portraying 20 or 30 years ago.

Yet while all three leads make this very watchable (Danes, too, excels as the title character), the film itself feels just too slight to maintain the more serious aspects of the storyline. A sub-plot involving one character suffering depression, for example, is glossed over so rapidly, and features the character making such a rapid recovery from an obviously serious condition, that
you wonder why they bothered. And as beautifully shot as it is — at times looking like Hollywood’s answer to Amélie — there’s barely enough story to sustain a 104-minute running time, leaving director Anand Tucker to plug the gaps with just a few too many scenes of Danes sitting in the bath, drying her hair, shaving her legs (honestly, just how many moments of personal grooming can one film take?) or just generally looking a bit wistful.

It scores points for the great central performances, and for an offbeat script that’s considerably sharper and funnier than your average rom-com; but you’re left with the feeling that minus the padding this could have been a much better movie.

It’s enjoyable and visually impressive, but this is a slender trifle of a film, one which charms you as you’re watching it and then is all too quickly forgotten.

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