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LAist Watches: Shopgirl

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Shopgirl is undoubtedly a uniquely Los Angeles kind of movie. From the romanticized sky-high shots of freeway traffic and hyperbolic starry skies over Los Feliz, almost every frame radiates LA the cinematic, LA of the lovelorn, LA the coolly distant, and LA the eternal optimist. Steve Martin, who adapted his novella into the screenplay, and, not surprisingly plays the surprising romantic lead, has once again penned a paean to this glimmering jewel of a city; a city whose residents may sparkle on the surface, but when they dare to draw you close may reveal their deeply cut flaws.

The film tells the story of Mirabelle, played exquisitely by Claire Danes and her quivering lower lip, an anti-depressant reliant young artist from Vermont who works the loneliest job in town as the glove counter girl at the posh Saks Fifth Avenue. Mirabelle has two suitors: the dashing but emotionally unavailable older man Ray Porter (Martin) and the scruffy ne'er do well amp salesman, Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman). For every one of Jeremy's fumbles, Ray offers a suave, polished older gentlemanly contrast, wooing her into his bed, but not allowing her into his heart. And it is heart that matters the most in this film, which Martin so deflty taps into with his words, and director Anand Tucker demonstrates with his sweeping storybook direction.

Shopgirl is not a perfect film, mind you. Some of the scene transitions are breathtaking, whereas others are more clumsy; as a film-goer this lends a slight sense of unevenness to the movie, but as a metaphor for matters of the heart it smacks familiar. Love, and people who encounter love, are imperfect, too. Even the blunders of the well-intentioned characters seem to send up the city of angels, with a tongue in cheek mocking of some of our city's uglier haunts, like the garish Universal City Walk. We wonder how well these moments will play in Peoria, Illinois. For us, hearing casual references to Silver Lake Boulevard and the Griffith Observatory made us feel, appropriately, right at home. Martin is no stranger to movies about this town; his 1991 L.A. Story is a comedy classic, and forever changed the way we looked at those electronic freeway signs. Admittedly it took us a few moments to adjust to seeing Martin as a sexual, romantic leading man, rather than the quirky fellows, or kindly dads we've grown so accustomed to seeing him play. There's a marked sadness in this role, and a vocalized sense of frustration and regret at the inability to love. Our eyes were far from dry when the film came to its end. Shopgirl is a lovely film, and has sunk a little into our cynic's psyche.

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Shopgirl is currently in limited release in Los Angeles, and other select US/Canadian cities.