(Anand Tucker, USA, rated R, 104 mins)
I was at the same screening of Shopgirl as my colleague. Initially, I was just going to leave a comment stating that I felt the same way about it. Then I realized that there were a few things I wanted to add--even if my conclusion is pretty much the same.
First of all, Claire Danes was miscast. She does a good job, but seems too sturdy for the role of Mirabelle as suggested by the script. And I'm not using "sturdy" as a pseudonym for "heavy"--Danes has never looked thinner.
I was reminded of Jessica Lange in HBO's 1995 revival of A Streetcar Named Desire (and I felt the same way about Lange in the 2000 West End revival of Eugene O'Neill's A Long Day's Journey Into Night). While she gives a fine performance, she looks far too healthy for the role of the fragile Blanche DuBois, unlike Vivien Leigh in the Elia Kazan classic, who looks as if she's been kicked around a little by life--much like the actress who played her.
Then there's Martin, author of the source novella, as Ray. It's hard to see what Mirabelle finds so appealing about this creep--not Martin the actor, but the walking stiff he plays in the film (he gives a similar performance in David Mamet's The Spanish Prisoner,* but to better effect). Maybe it's a form of anti-vanity on Martin's part, i.e. he didn't want to seem eager to be liked, in which case he succeeds spectacularly. I didn't like him. Nor did I buy him as a great lover, but that might be where Martin chose to concentrate his vanity (ironically, Shopgirl followed a trailer for Lasse Hallström's Casanova).
But back to my quibbles, like the score, which isn't horrible, but plays as incongruously portentous in a film aiming for elegance and restraint. Worst of all is the omniscient narration, a device that elevates Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Amélie and Alfonso Cuarón's Y Tu Mamá También, but Tucker deploys with great clumsiness here. It's provided, of course, by Martin. Hence, I thought Ray was speaking at first, although he couldn't know the things this God-like creature does. Further, some lines, like "That's life," are just plain flat-footed. Mostly, it sounds tacked-on, an afterthought.
On the plus side, Peter Suschitzky's crisp cinematography is an asset. He also shot David Cronenberg's Crash, and he makes LA look much like Toronto, i.e. way cleaner than it really is (even if Shopgirl was shot on location). I guess I should condemn such glamorization, which brought me back to Blake Edwards' lovely looking Breakfast at Tiffanys, a far superior effort. But at least this one isn't marred by Mickey Rooney and his unfunny Japanese impression. Instead you get Bridgette Wilson-Sampras playing yet another bitchy blonde--although she sure does it well.
Endnote: Shopgirl is currently available on DVD. Images © Touchstone Pictures or related entities. Used for publicity and promotional purposes.