A lot of reviewers will likely wearily compare Shopgirl to Lost in Translation with caveats such as, "Isn't it time we put this tired, old formula to rest?" They will point out that both Shopgirl and Lost in Translation tell the story of a relationship between an older man and a younger woman, and that both men are played by comedians looking for new depth in their movie roles.
What they will not point out is that Steve Martin published his novella Shopgirl back in 2000, and that the story weaves a love triangle with the focus on the girl, while Lost in Translation takes place with equal emphasis on two people. They also will fail to notice how lovely, funny and adorable Shopgirl is. It's almost huggable.
The camera follows a modelesque girl as she enters Beverly Hills' Sax Fifth Avenue, and it continues tracking past dazzling sales girls and glamorous customers until it rests on the shy, somewhat plain Mirabelle Buttersfield (Danes) working the glove counter, a little bored and quite stuck.
She is about to meet two men. Jeremy (Schwartzman) works for an amplifier company. Ray Porter (Martin) is a rich businessman with homes in several cities. Jeremy and Mirabelle go on one mediocre date just before Ray sweeps her off of her feet. But while Mirabelle is serious, Ray considers her only a girl in this particular port.
Meanwhile, Jeremy has taken some off-the-cuff advice from Mirabelle and gone on the road with a rock band, helping to spread the word about his amplifiers. The bandleader (Mark Kozelek, singer for the Red House Painters) listens to self-help tapes while on tour and Jeremy learns confidence and respect.
It's not difficult to predict the story's arc, but director Tucker and cinematographer Peter Suschitzky correctly focus on the moments. Their widescreen cinematography and delicate use of colors capture Martin's beloved, magical vision of Los Angeles while offering plenty of quiet corners in which to reflect.
Martin's dialogue, while dishing out a few laughs here and there, mostly focuses on truthful emotions. In many love triangles the third party is a disposable patsy, but here, both Jeremy and Ray come across as reasonable, malleable people.
But it's Danes who sells Shopgirl. Dealing with Mirabelle's chemical depression, she opens up slowly over the course of the film like a budding flower in time-lapse photography. Moreover, her transformation has little to do with being loved by a man; it's her awakening, and no one else's.