Corner Shop Film Review #3: Shopgirl

In which we look at the corner shop in the movies….
In the interests of academic research and a more interesting blogsite, we have recently taken to watching the odd DVD in the back room. Not any old DVD, we’ll have you know: there are strict criteria. The film must be about shop life. We wanted to know how the corner shopkeeper is being portrayed out there, and set the record straight if necessary. This exercise is also, of course, a very good way of whiling a quiet Monday evening….
Synopsis: Shopgirl (2005) is billed as a romantic comedy, and is based on a novella by the deeply and importantly talented Steve Martin. Its cover smacks of romcom, right? And the plot has all the right elements to make it so. The eponymous shop girl is country girl Mirabelle (played by Clare Danes), who works on the glove counter at the everso-glam Saks in LA (well, it’s no glammer than Selfridges actually – but it’s big and swish). We gather that she is an artist of sorts, which possibly explains the look of frigid ennui that she assumes behind her counter at work. Her fairly dreary retail routine (complete with spinster cardis and a cat) is interrupted by the arrival of two potential suitors: Jeremy, a improbably goofy and penniless muso (played by Jason Schwartzman: no, we hadn’t heard of him either), and Ray Porter, a mature, wealthy businessman (played by Martin himself). When Jeremy goes off on a roadie trip, Mirabelle falls heavily for Ray, but struggles with his apparent inability to reciprocate. When Jeremy reappears, she is forced to reappraise her life and make a choice.
Two observations. Prudes we are not, but Mirabelle shows an astonishing willingness to get cosy with anyone showing her affection, and indeed to get her kit off. And secondly – this really is not a comedy. The term romantic comedy is bandied about far too willingly, as it is surely the path to box office gold, but this is a plain romance and nothing more.
Real Shop Cred: Corner shop stuff this ain’t: Saks is a bustling department store. But hey: we’ve worked in a department store, and Mrs. Shopkeeper’s Mummy worked at Debenhams for nearly twenty years, so we know what the score is. Very little of the store, or running thereof, is actually portrayed in the film. But we will nevertheless give it 3 out of 10 on the cred-ometer, and this for one outstanding reason: its near perfect portrayal of how very scary the ladies on make-up counters can be.
Buy, rent, cadge or avoid? Hmm. We like Steve Martin: indeed he sold us this film. He’s a funny, funny man. Which is why Shopgirl is so disappointing. It didn’t make us laugh: nope, not even a titter. It is ponderous, and introspective; a bit sad in places. It is undeniably well acted. And we’re sure that the original book was a corker: exerpts which we’re read are beautifully written. But beautiful text does not always make good screenplay. We’d have to say that this is one to avoid.

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