Cinema Signal:

The Shy Guy's Guide to Dating
The Best Places to Meet Women, the Ten Best Pickup Lines, etc.

. "Shopgirl"

The shop in question is Saks Fifth Avenue on Wilshire in Beverly Hills. No mere shop. No mere girl. And when super-rich Ray Porter spots Mirabelle Buttersfield (Claire Danes) behind her counter, bells start ringing for him. He boldly begins his wooing by purchasing some very smart full-length gloves and sending it to her as a gift. How's that for an older guy coming on to a young lass?

But the object of his affections is possibly tied up. Or, maybe not. Perhaps out of the needs of a lonely girl who spends her nights drawing in charcoal and shooting self-portraits, or just a chance encounter with an awkward but funny guy she meets in a laundromat, (a guy who had to borrow a quarter from her to finish his drying), she's somewhat involved. But, then, that was just to show the extremity of her need for a male in her life The dates with Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman) have ranged from awkward to dysfunctional. So yes, she's available.

Thus starts a relationship that's going to make the one with Jeremy look like it was outlined in heaven. Ray is unhurried, as casual as can be, treats her to dinner in the best places, and floods her with gifts. In turn, she's there for him, careful not to make demands when it's so clear that being a bachelor loner is who he is. Which is not to say she can block her emotions.

Plenty of closeups of him, especially at moments alone while traveling on his private jet, imply that he's mooning over her, having seconds thoughts about commitment, realizing the effect of her in his life. But before we get carried away about this guy changing spots, he's in a converstation in an office with an unseen person. His lawyer? Whoever he's talking to, he's assuring the guy that he's made no promises to the new girl in his life.

He continues to ply her with gifts and, when she suffers from a serious but non-life-threatening medical problem, he's there attending closely. Obviously, the author (Mr. Martin) and director Anand Tucker want to tantalize us with the thought that this is a rich love story.

I'll tell you this much: it's a fine character study (based on Martin's novella) and a close observation of a certain kind of man. The treat is Ms. Danes, who makes us live through her pain with a voyeur's pleasure as she generates stellar sympathy. Her clarity and class are warm and captivating, coming to an emotional head when she asks her lover with straightforward containment why he never loved her.

Martin acquits himself well in a role he understands from several creative perspectives, maintaining controlled lust and antiseptic distance. Schwartzman eludes reality with comedic shtick that serves as characterization. The best thing I can say for him is that he shows improvement over his even more overly demonstrative role in "I Heart Huckabees."

The story is a glittery, empty package that, while idiosyncratic, is not altogether unreal. But that doesn't make its mix of melancholy and emotional design particularly rewarding or meaningful.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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The start of emotional dissatisfactions
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