Dir. Anand Tucker, 2005, 103 mins
Cast: Steve Martin, Claire Danes, Jason Schwartzman
This a beautifully crafted and touching film about loneliness and the difficulty of reaching out and making a sexual romantic connection with another human being. It is, as the sparingly used and illuminating voiceover from Martin tells us, about the need we all have to be recognised and appreciated, to be special to someone.
The shopgirl of the title is Mirabelle (Danes), living alone and lonely in Los Angeles in a tiny apartment, working to pay off her student loan in the glove department of Saks in Beverley Hills. One evening, in the launderette, she meets Jeremy (Schwarzman), a grubby, immature youth. They go on a delightfully awkward date and begin a somewhat unsatisfactory affair. Then Ray (Martin) comes into her life, a wealthy and sophisticated older man, who buys a pair of women's gloves from her in the store, then sends them to her as a gift with an invitation to dinner. Despite the difference in their ages, he seems at first a much more attractive romantic proposition than Jeremy, who has anyway now left Los Angeles for a job as a runner with a touring rock and roll band, in the course of which he does a lot of growing up. But while Ray is happy to shower her with expensive gifts, what he cannot give is himself. Mirabelle on the other hand has only herself to give. It's not just the often uncomfortable difference in their ages which makes foreverness a no hoper for this couple, it's his personality.
Danes is beautifully wistful as Mirabelle. There's one scene between her and Ray, after she's tried everything she can to connect with him, when in sheer frustration she cries out: "Why can't you love me?" and nearly broke my heart. But Martin, who wrote the script based on his own novella, is affecting too in his far less sympathetic role. The man is frankly a charming cad, yet you can sense the fear and the loneliness underneath, which hold him back from any real connection or commitment. The whole thing has a ring of truth to it, which anyone whose ever experienced the pain of a love affair gone wrong will recognise.
Anand Tucker directs with a great delicacy of touch and a sense of elegance, and the film is beautifully shot in a way which emphasises Mirabelle's isolation and the space between the characters. It is not, however, a depressing film. As you might expect, Martin's script is witty as well as perceptive and the film also captures the way that being in love can make life feel adventurous and exciting. And it does embrace the possibility of change. Jeremy, through his experiences on the road and a somewhat wacky devotion to self-help DVDs, manages to grow out of his childishness and discover some sensitivity. Mirabelle learns from her experience with Ray how to find elsewhere the love and attention she needs. But the image one is left with at the end is of Ray, who cannot change. He may always have a new girl on his arm, but the yearning look in his eyes for what he cannot allow himself to have tells us that he may always end up alone.
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