The movie version of Steve Martin’s slim first fiction is an uneasy marriage of form and content—a wan, world-weary representation of anomie, loneliness, and low expectations, dressed up in the ill-fitting designer duds of the studio rom-com. Pensive, pretty Vermont transplant Mirabelle (Claire Danes) works at, or just leans on, the rarely frequented glove counter at Saks in L.A. The struggling artist lives alone with her cat and seems to have little in the way of a support network, which may explain why she allows grubby Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman), a broke font-designer who’s a late bloomer in the superego department, anywhere near her. Bachelor number two, smoothly tailored Ray (orange-hued Martin), is a diffident middle-ager with intimacy issues, but he’s rich and generous and easy to be around (though Martin’s generally recessive performance is especially pained and sheepish during the initial courtship).
Martin’s screenplay, helmed by Hilary and Jackie director Anand Tucker, unfolds as a series of slightly disjointed vignettes, padded with redundant voiceover and an oppressively histrionic score. Mirabelle’s difficult withdrawal from antidepressants, for instance, comes out of nowhere, though it does provide brief occasion for a peek past Shopgirl‘s reflective surfaces—and thanks to Danes, who’s bundled and skimmed in a series of flower prints, the script’s every slightest hint at the contents of Mirabelle’s inner life opens like a bud. Danes’s performance is as bright and tender as a new bruise, and thus Shopgirl is a strangely hybrid creature: a hollow store mannequin with a broken, beating heart.