Mirabelle (Claire Danes), the drooping long-stemmed rose who sells fancy gloves in the depressive and self-regarding not-quite-love story Shopgirl, is passive in most things. Attracting the romantic attention of both Jason Schwartzman as Jeremy, an uncouth, insolvent young guy, and Steve Martin as Ray, a financially generous but emotionally stoppered older man, she accepts no responsibility for her own fate. Only in her wardrobe, apparently, does she — or the costume designer of this pinched New Yorker short story of a project — get to express a muted, refined sense of herself as the kind of young woman who deserves better things, finer things, things that could only be provided by Steve Martin’s kind of older man.
Martin, after all, wrote the screenplay, based on his precisely carved novella of the same name. He produced. He certainly stars. And although Hilary and Jackie’s Anand Tucker directed, mixing in the visual flourishes of an old-time glamorous Hollywood romance (and loading on the aural gold leaf with Barrington Pheloung’s intrusive score), it is Martin’s romantic melancholy we surely see, refracted through the prism of Ray’s cultured taste in sushi, art, and girls as poetically chic as Claire Danes. (She gives off a lunar glow — part moonlit, part living-dead.)
In their way, Mirabelle and Ray are the deracinated West Coast equivalents of a Woody Allen couple — she a lovely, somber thing who can’t resist his erudition, he a proud snob who only thinks he’s confessing his flaws with admirable honesty. In fact, Ray — and Shopgirl — appear all too wistfully satisfied with not giving enough.