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Film review: 'Shopgirl' a bit aloof and risque

SHOPGIRL — ** 1/2 — Claire Danes, Steve Martin, Jason Schwartzman; rated R (sex, vulgarity, brief drugs, brief partial nudity).

Steve Martin's debut novel "Shopgirl" was pretty slender — 130 pages, to be exact. So as the screenwriter adapting his own material, he had to expand certain roles and bring in some new characters to make it suitable for a feature film.

The recipient of most of the "role expansion" is Jeremy Kraft, the social misfit played by Jason Schwartzman. Ironically, he becomes more interesting than any of the other characters — including the title character, played by Claire Danes.

As for the movie itself, it seems a little disinterested and distracted, even aloof and a bit cold. Also, for a film with aspirations to be an old-fashioned romance, it features a surprising amount of R-rated sexual material.

Danes' unlikely named character is Mirabelle Buttersfield, an aspiring artist who is stuck working as a glove salesperson at ritzy department store, where she's terminally bored.

Mirabelle is also lonely, which becomes apparent when she agrees to go out on a date with the oddball Jeremy, a font designer for a musical-amplifier manufacturer.

And quite unexpectedly, she discovers she has another suitor, Ray Porter (Martin), an older wealthy businessman who invites her to dinner in a quite-creative way.

Given a choice between the two, she goes with Ray. However, he's made it quite clear that he doesn't want any real romantic entanglements. Meanwhile, Jeremy has been pining for her while touring the country with a rock band.

Among Martin's worst choices as screenwriter is the addition of an unfunny, go-nowhere subplot involving Mirabelle's money-hungry, manipulative co-worker (Bridget Wilson-Sampras). Also, Martin's overly explanatory voiceover narration becomes tiresome, as he shares supposed character "insights" that have already become apparent.

Still, the cast is good. As Mirabelle, Danes gives her most mature performance to date, and Schwartzman exudes goofy charm, easily his best work since "Rushmore."

"Shopgirl" is rated R for simulated sex and other sexual contact, some crude sexual talk and references (including some innuendo), some brief drug content (use and discussion of prescription-drugs), and brief partial female nudity. Running time: 106 minutes.


E-mail: jeff@desnews.com