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Rescue From Retail Hell

If you've ever worked retail, you know how insanely mind numbing, soul killing and lethargy-inducing it can actually be. The side effects are crushing. It can drown you in a sea of ennui and squash any ounce of ambition you've ever had. If you work in a high-end shop, the kind of store where you can't afford to buy any of the items you are trying to sell, these feelings are only multiplied. Based on the novel of the same name as well as adapted to the screen by Steve Martin, Shopgirl, tells the tale of one such victim of retail.

Mirabelle (a luminescent Claire Daines) is an artist without direction; her anti-depressants only contribute to her aimlessness. She draws but not with any conviction. In fact, she doesn't do anything with conviction. She floats through life and each day blends into the next along the backdrop of a muted Los Angeles. She works as a "glove girl" at Saks. It's a lonely life, and her early twenties are melting away before her very eyes.

That is, until she meets Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman who is, as usual, amazing in this role), an uncouth, unclean slacker. Like most young men his age, he's completely clueless. But, for Mirabelle, in spite of herself, he'll do. Their attempts at "dating" (this term is used loosely, it's more like hanging out), however, are sorely lacking. She's too shy and reserved and he's a total wreck.

So, when a charming, wealthy, older man, Ray Parker (Steve Martin), asks her to dinner, she readily accepts. Ray knows what he's doing and, moreover, he knows how to "take care" of her. Something Jeremy can't do…at the moment. She enters into a relationship with Ray and the melancholy Mirabelle finally cuts a smile.

One of Shopgirl's best assets is its witty, insightful dialogue. The writing is sharp and hits just the right tone, each line is a tribute to Mr. Martin's skills. The performances of its cast, which are all hands-down superb, only serves to further the script. Lines like, "I've been reading lots of books on tape…" uttered by a completely sincere Jason Schwartzman will have you chuckling in your seat.

Moreover, it is Anand Tucker's skill as a director that pulls the movie together. Shopgirl is shot beautifully. The loveliest scenes were those with Mirabelle and Ray in bed. Tucker turns a simple act like undoing a zipper into a work of art. There are no superfluous angles and scenes here, each shot is well thought out and planned. Tucker's former gig as a producer on Girl with the Pearl Earring seems to have had an influence, as this film holds some of the same pacing and lighting.

I would say that Shopgirl is this year's Lost in Translation. While the two films are very different, there are elements that are very much the same: Mirabelle's lack of direction; her solitude; her draw to an older man; her relationship with a peer who doesn't understand her at all. However, unlike the former film, Shopgirl has a more distinctive narrative and story arc. Translation: you know what the hell is going on, and it is both poignant and funny.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars