Directed by Anand Tucker

Written by Steve Martin from his novella

Starring Steve Martin, Claire Danes, Jason Schwartzman



"Shopgirl" comes with what you might call a good pedigree: It was written by Steve Martin from his novella of the same name, and directed by Anand Tucker, who made the powerful 1998 drama "Hilary and Jackie," about the life and loves and pain and death of cellist Jacqueline DuPré. It stars Martin himself as an aging roué and Claire Danes as his current flame; she, meanwhile, is attracted to young Jason Schwartzman, roadie for a rock band.

I see that I've just told you the entire story of the film. Unhappily, the film takes almost two hours to do the same thing. In fact, watching "Shopgirl" is like watching a tape running at half-speed. Things on screen happen so slowly that we're tempted to read more into them just because they take so long to happen. Danes is Mirabelle Buttersfield, from Vermont, who happens to be selling gloves at Saks in Beverly Hills. At the laundromat she meets scruffy young Jeremy (Schwartzman), who has lots of body hair and slurs his lines a lot. She then meets middle-aged Ray Porter (Martin), evidently a billionaire since he only flies in private jets, has homes in Seattle and Los Angeles (he lives in a house that oddly reminded me of the one used in the film "Three Days in the Valley"); he pays off Mirabelle's student loans, he wants to take her to New York, but - and here's the rub - somehow he can't really, really love her. The fact that he's a good thirty years older than she is a topic that's only barely hinted at in the film.

Frankly, I don't know why he can't love her; I would love Claire Danes in a minute, but then I'm not a billionaire. Life is different up there, I guess. The film is so vaporous that it's hard to believe we're expected to take it seriously. I'm told the book has enriching elements that relate to Mirabelle's family in Vermont (a father traumatized by his experiences in Vietnam), and sound a good deal more interesting than her dates with Ray. And conveniently for the script, I guess, poor Jeremy is whisked off for six months on the road with his band. And when he returns, ta-dah, he's clean-shaven, well-dressed and has modulated his voice so we know that Schwartzman is really a member of the Coppola family (a cousin) we've come to know and love. That's okay; I like the Coppolas. I only wish they'd make better film choices.