Shopgirl (2005) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna


Scoop's notes

"Why don't you love me, Ray?', asks the mid-twentyish shopgirl of her wealthy, elderly, emotionally distant boyfriend.

Ray's real answer was, "I thought you understood," but I could have delivered the proper line in this case: "Isn't it obvious? Because I have been seeing you for months and months, and in all that time you have never expressed a single interesting thought to me, nor have I said anything which seemed to engage you emotionally. We simply have no real communication between us."

That is precisely what kept Steve Martin's good script from being a great one. We feel that there should be some connection between these two people, because in the later stages of their relationship, and even after their break-up, they talk as if the connection had been there, but we are left to imagine that it must have existed off-camera. While they are on camera together, their talks remain stiff, formal, and emotionally distant. With the same sort of May-December relationship in Woody Allen's Manhattan, I really felt that Woody and Mariel were having fun together - not just having sex, but connecting, and making each other laugh. In Shopgirl I wasn't even sure if they liked one another.

To be fair, Steve Martin does not allow himself to get painted into that corner. He obviously was aware of that problem in the script, and painted himself a clever escape route. Although we are befuddled by the shopgirl's inability to see that she and the old geezer do not have the kind of easy intimacy a true love should have, Martin's script shows and iterates that the shopgirl is perfectly content in her own father's love, even though her dad speaks only with glances and in monosyllables. "See," the script seems to tell us, "She thinks that her boyfriend's lack of communication is normal, and does not recognize it as a sign that their connection is frayed." Furthermore, we see the shopgirl in other contexts, and we see that she is unworldly, and clumsy with guys, and has never experienced the profound and natural bond that exists between real lovers. She doesn't know it is missing because she doesn't know it exists. That escape route is very clever and subtle. Too much so, by half or more. Steve Martin is obviously a very smart man, but he needs to get out of his large brain now and then and dig deeper into his heart. That kind of excessive rationalism belongs in an Atom Egoyan arthouse movie, not in a portrayal of ordinary people in the real world.

Bottom line: I just couldn't feel the pain of their dissolution, because I never saw them share the joy of their good times. The narrator told me they had some intimacy, and the characters talked about how they had once felt, so I knew what the script was trying to say, but I never felt it, dammit. When the rich guy tells the shopgirl, at the end of the movie, "I ... did love you." I thought to myself, "No, you didn't. You're just saying that, because we always say that when it's over too soon. If you had made an emotional commitment to her, you both would have been bored by now, and hating each other. It hurt you both at the time, but you did the right thing, dammit." I never felt for one moment that they were a couple that belonged together, and I never rooted for them to end up together. Is that the way I was supposed to feel? I'm not sure, really, but whether it is or not, it was not very satisfying for me to watch their relationship pay itself out, and then when the couple spoke of how they had messed up by separating, I felt that the script hadn't earned the right to get to that point.

It's good to see that Steve Martin hasn't lost his sense of humor. Although the May-December romance is bittersweet, some of the sub-plots produce big laughs. For example, the shopgirl is also being pursued by a slacker, and the funniest part of the film occurs when the shopgirl's gorgeous, gold-digging colleague concocts a plan to steal the rich guy away, but ends up getting the two guys confused. She gives the naive slacker a night of kinky sex that would impress Hugh Hefner, then fails to recognize his real name when he calls the next day.

Let me also add that the film observes many things correctly. I have been in the shoes of the Steve Martin character. I was single in my early forties and, while not yet a company president, ran some big operations overseas. During this time I had fairly significant relationships with two women aged 20 and 26 respectively, so I think I can relate to the elderly businessman. It is a tough position to be in. I was not afraid of commitment, but I always withheld emotionally, moving everything much more slowly than I would have with an older woman, because younger women take a small sign of affection and interpret it too broadly and too imprecisely, and they are not yet comfortable enough in their skins to just come out and ask what the signs really mean.

One of those two women, the older one, left me because I didn't ask her to marry me soon enough. But I did love her. If she and I had been equals in age and stature, and could reasonably have predicted being able to live together, I would have been thinking about marriage after about two weeks with her. Our connection was just that perfect. But as the older guy who could not change his career path, I simply couldn't ask a woman to change her entire life for me unless she was absolutely sure of "us," so I proceeded cautiously. She was a Norwegian who already had a very good career in Norway despite her youth. She was "going places." I was an American expat who would eventually have to leave Norway, either for an American assignment or for another job in Europe. As it turns out, it was only about eight months later that I left Scandinavia, which had become a maintenance market, and took over Central Europe, where everything was just bursting after glasnost. So if I had asked her to marry me, we would have had a major crisis about the same time as our wedding - what was she going to do when I moved to Vienna, then Budapest, then back to the States? Was she going to abandon her brilliant career to tag along with me? You see why I held back? She never did understand it, but it turned out that I was completely right. If we had married, it would have been a big mistake. Our break-up was the best thing that could have happened for both of us, although it shattered me at the time.

The script for Shopgirl is completely aware of these sorts of complications, and how they affect a successful older man's emotional openness with younger women. Bravo to Steve Martin. I suppose he has known these moments, and he poured them out honestly. That's a good thing. If he could just have convinced me that they had a relationship worth salvaging in the first place, it would have been a great thing.




  • Commentary by: Director Anand Tucker
  • "Evolution of a Novella: The Making of Shopgirl"
  • Deleted scenes



Claire Danes shows her bottom in a lingering view from two angles.

DVD Paperback

Tuna's notes

Shopgirl is a romantic comedy written by Steve Martin, adapted from his own novella. The story was a very personal work for Martin, who based the story on things in his life, and the lives of friends. This Steve Martin is not the "wild and crazy buy," but a serious writer and a serious actor playing his role earnestly. In addition to Steve, it stars Claire Danes as a young single woman working at the glove counter in Saks 5th Avenue to pay off her student loans. She dreams of being a successful artist, and finding someone to love. Before Martin enters her life, she meets slacker Jason Schwartzman in a laundromat. He is far from the perfect mate, as he has little money, a dead end job, and is not cursed with awareness or sensitivity. About the time he leaves on tour with a rock band, Steve Martin spots Claire at Saks, and buys a pair of gloves from her, which he mails to her house.

Martin is rich and refined, and is attentive and generous. He, however, realizes that she is way too young for him, and tries hard to explain to her that it is just a physical thing. He enjoys her company, but there will not be any commitment. Martin gives what he has, money, and gets in return a bright young woman on his arm, one who is great in bed, and can carry herself appropriately for the circles he runs in, especially with the wardrobe his money can buy her. She is so thrilled with the relationship, which she hopes will become more permanent, that she stops taking her anti-depressants, which is a big mistake. In the process of nursing her back out of clinical depression, Martin realizes that the relationship, for him, is over. He has become more like her father than her lover. When he has casual sex with someone else, and tells Danes, she finally realizes that the relationship has no future, and she has the choice of hurting now, or hurting later.

Fortunately for Danes, Schwartzman had been listening to self-help tapes on the road, and has evolved by the time he returns. It also doesn't hurt that he really loves her.

Danes is adorable, and her portrayal of someone in deep depression was spot on.

The Critics Vote ...

  • Super-panel consensus out of four stars: three and change. James Berardinelli 3/4, Roger Ebert 3.5/4, BBC 3/5.

The People Vote ...

  • Box Office Mojo. It grossed $10 million in wide arthouse distribution (493 theaters).
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, the reviewers agree that it is a C: a movie which does deliver an emotional punch and a couple of good laughs, but which seems to have missed the brass ring it might have caught

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