Based on the popular novella by leading man / screenwriter Steve Martin, Shopgirl is a light yet mature (and somewhat pensive) romantic comedy that, I suppose, would best be described as L.A. Story meets Lost in Translation. It's a mellow and mature tale of May-December romance, and the film's to be commended for treating the young hottie / older man romantic conventions with a lot more maturity than one might expect.
When you see a rich older man walking with a pretty young thing on his arm, your first reaction is generally pretty predictable:
She's with him because he's very wealthy and protective. He's with her because she's young, firm, and sexy, thereby giving the fella a chance to reclaim some of his youth through the power of sex.
But the main characters in Martin's Shopgirl (as directed by Anand Tucker) are not exactly the shallow opportunists that you'd normally roll your eyeballs at; the young woman has the opportunity to date a guy her own age ... but she likes the older chap for a variety of reasons. And this rich and distinguished "older man" is not even remotely in it for the sex alone. Indeed, the guy has a raging inability to connect with women on a romantic level.
So there's actually a lot of unpredictable insight to be found in Steve Martin's screenplay, which results in a droll, dry and generally satisfying delivery of unexpected romance, understated humor, and knowing swipes at the human condition.
Plus it's got Jason Schwartzman as a goofball who yearns for just a bit more maturity, so that he can woo the sort of gal who spends time on the arm of a late-middle-aged millionaire. Funny stuff.
Shopgirl is neither an indictment of nor an apology for the "trophy girlfriend" syndrome. As a matter of fact, the flick brings to light several warm and wistful insights into why older guys crave younger gals -- and it's not just for the sex, regardless of how obvious that reason may seem.
As department store glove-seller Mirabelle Buttersfield, Claire Danes delivers some of her best work in years; probably the best of her career. As Ray Porter, Steve Martin, seemingly a little bit inspired by the recent work of colleague Bill Murray, underplays his role perfectly as he creates a rich, classy guy who just wants some companionship -- even if he seems physically unable to fall in love. And Schwartzman's supporting turn as Mirabelle's more "age appropriate" suitor, Jeremy, brings a satisfying dose of offbeat humor and arcane warmth to the proceedings. Love Shopgirl or hate it, there's little denying that the three leads are at the top of their game here.
Video: An anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) transfer, which is quite lovely to look at, I must say.
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, in your choice of English, Spanish, or French. Optional subtitles are available in the same three languages.
Director Anand Tucker (Hillary and Jackie) contributes a smooth and informative feature-length audio commentary, but (as with so many solo tracks) the guy probably could have used a co-commentator to bounce his anecdotes off of. Why Steve Martin is not on this chat-track is simply beyond me.
The 22-minute Evolution of a Novella: The Making of Shopgirl contains on-set interview segments with Steve Martin, Claire Danes, Jason Schwartzman, director Anand Tucker, producer Ashok Armitraj, production designer William Arnold, costume designer Mamcy Steiner, and Saks Fifth Avenue PR gal Lori Rhodes. It's just a quick run-through and mega-praise fest, but fans of the flick will find it painless enough.
Also included are a pair of deleted scenes (Mirabelle Waits for Messages on Her Machine and Mirabelle and Ray at Restaurant for Breakfast) and a bunch of trailers for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, Annapolis, Casanova, Eight Below, Grey's Anatomy S1, Gilmore Girls, Shadows in the Sun, Everything You Want, and "TV on DVD."
Familiar on the surface yet boasting some mellow and serene surprises throughout, Shopgirl is a classy, quiet, and entirely enjoyable look at one particular strain of modern romance -- and it might just inspire you to think a little bit differently the next time you see a 60-year-old guy holding hands with a 30-year-old cutie.
(Review partially reprinted from my 2005 Toronto Film Festival coverage, where I first saw the flick.)