- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 27, 2005

It’s Steve Martin’s turn to get his “Lost in Translation” makeover. The comic’s “Shopgirl,” based on his own novella, casts the aging funnyman as a Murray-esque leading man wooing a 20-something naif.

The mold fits Mr. Martin well, even if the film’s love triangle lacks a vibrant third side.

As Internet millionaire Ray Porter, Mr. Martin buries his comic persona under layers of culture and decayed relationships until there’s nary a trace of his wild and crazy self. “Shopgirl,” in turn, rarely succumbs to the machinations of the modern romantic comedy. It has more serious thoughts in its pretty head.

Young Mirabelle (Claire Danes) mans the glove department station at a Saks Fifth Avenue store in L.A. It pays the bills — barely — and lets her indulge her artistic side, which means filling entire pages with charcoal black smudges.

She begins an awkward flirtation with Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman), a fellow artist, who can’t even afford two tickets to the local Imax theater. Sparks don’t exactly fly, but his irreverent energy gives him a hangdog sort of charm.

And when you’re as lonely as Mirabelle, that’s more than enough.

The incipient romance stalls when the fiftysomething Ray chats her up over a glove purchase and later asks her out. The two have little in common beyond dubious motivations. He lusts after her youth and plain Jane beauty, while she can’t imagine why a sophisticate would so much as look at her twice.

Ray warns Mirabelle their relationship can’t last, but after their first carnal rendezvous she starts imagining them as a couple.

Meanwhile, Jeremy hits the road with a semi-famous rock band, a story detour straining to give his character some semblance of growth.

“Shopgirl” asks us which suitor is best for Mirabelle, yet Jeremy hardly seems a match for her, despite being age appropriate.

The film, adapted by Mr. Martin, makes several feints toward a more conventional plot structure but mostly stays true to its unorthodox nature. Don’t expect any last-minute kisses at an airport terminal or in Paris. “Shopgirl’s” rhythms remain deliciously different, although the film treads far too gingerly around Mirabelle’s depression.

“Shopgirl” reeks of higher aspirations, right down to Barrington Pheloung’s sumptuous score. Yet the film’s wistful tone and dark humor can’t hide that its revelations about relationships feel shopworn.

** 1/2

WHAT: “Shopgirl”

RATING: R (Coarse language, sexual situations and mature themes)

CREDITS: Directed by Anand Tucker. Adapted by Steve Martin from his novella of the same name

RUNNING TIME: 106 minutes

WEB SITE: https://shopgirl.movies.

go.com/

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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