Picks and Pans Review: Shopgirl

updated 10/31/2005 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 10/31/2005 AT 01:00 AM EST

Steve Martin, Claire Danes, Jason Schwartzman

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In movies from the 1930s, rich playboys were always falling for shopgirls and mending their wastrel ways. In Shopgirl a finely wrought film version of star and screenwriter Martin's 2000 novella of the same name, the story's the same, only different, reflecting more complicated times. Mirabelle (Danes), a dreamy young woman, works at the fancy gloves department at Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills. Roy (Martin), a wealthy, divorced man in his 50s, encounters her there. Soon Mirabelle has dropped her awkward, impecunious young suitor (Schwartzman) in favor of Roy. But the months pass and, though he showers her with gifts and kindness, Roy is incapable of giving himself fully to her, or anyone. She finds herself plaintively asking, "Why don't you love me?"

It's a question that's heartbreaking in its poignancy and a high point of the movie. That's partly due to the note-perfect performance by Danes and partly because, by the time the film reaches this scene, we've come to know and hope for the best for these characters. So why does Shopgirl, directed by Anand Tucker (Hilary and Jackie), in the end feel so inconsequential? Maybe it's because even though these two suffer, they do so in such tasteful, expensive surroundings, bathed in the soft glow of pricey lighting fixtures or L.A.'s warm sunshine. Gimme some of that kind of angst any day. (R)


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