Lauren: Shopgirl: are you a lover? Or a hater? And most importantly, to tie in with the film's marketing campaign: What were you looking for? And did you find it?
Emma: I am a lover, most definitely. What I was looking for was a sensitive and faithful adaptation of the book, which was accomplished, no doubt in large part because Steve Martin wrote the screenplay himself.
Lauren: His writing and performance were key -- the film is his story, literally. I found myself quite surprised by the veracity of the characters. How real, and flawed, and willing to be hurt they all seemed.
Emma: The characters' amazing complexity - subtle, real and heartfelt - was absolutely what made the film such a success.
Lauren: Completely, because as I mentioned, there were a few icky things.
Emma: Right - go on...
Lauren: Like the cinematography. It felt like the mise-en-scene was hardly a consideration.
Emma: I wasn't as horrified by that as you, but I'm prepared to be convinced!
Lauren: Sure, the actors carried the weight of such a complex, humanistic film, but it could have easily been beautiful to watch as well as beautifully acted. For instance, the opening credits were given an inspired treatment that was poorly executed. While watching a camera scroll over cosmetics, I don't want to think, "Oooh, a camera scrolling over cosmetics." I want to think, "Wow, what a gorgeous and unusual setting." It just felt a little obvious, and then the first scene, the camera was actually shaking.
Emma: I agree with that, definitely.
Lauren: And later in the film, when Mirabelle has that freakout session in the store. It's so obvious that she's kind of rolling away, literally and that cheesy, ham-handed shot is supposed to convey her emotional fragility. Sorry, no - a complete lack of technical facility, maybe, on the part of the director and crew.
Emma: Oh, I was so moved by that scene. I think it was conveyed well! I was suspending my critical faculties overly, perhaps, so engaged was I by the emotional content. What did you think of the sky metaphor, continually employed via the skyline etc?
Lauren: I liked the sky metaphor a lot. It was one more thing that established the LA setting. We don't think much about the sky in New York. And it had kind of a dreamy California feel to it as well.
Emma: Certainly, the twinkling lights of the landscape as viewed from high up felt very LA-specific.
Lauren: Marcy mentioned to me last week that she hated the sweeping theme music, which ebbed and flowed between "major movement" and "crescendo" but I think you and I thought it wasn't so bad. It's that kind of a story.
Emma: There was one song I felt hit a slightly false note: when she's first in love with Ray, it was a sixties love song, what was it?
Lauren: It was “I Only Want To Be With You,” as sung by Dusty Springfield.
Emma: I agree that the score overall was a little "on the nose", and in the case of that song, it was overly so. But generally I think the music worked. As you say it was that kind of a film.
Lauren: The soundtrack could have been much more original, but they're not really original characters: the unmotivated artist toiling in retail, the rich tech exec, the slacker dude…
Emma: It could have, definitely. I suppose they're not original as characters superficially, but we got an original level of access to them as people.
Lauren: No definitely - that's why I didn't mind the un-original songs, though. Emotions aren't really original. Falling in love is universal, or at least the aspiration to make that kind of connection with another human being, and the film did a marvelous job of conveying that ache. I was thinking on the way home that the film was like a red glass heart that had been broken and glued back together again and presented as being only exactly what it is. There were so many scenes where my mouth just fell open, and I was like, "That's going to hurt." SO many!
Emma: That's exactly it! I was holding back the sobs. And I was skeptical, but Danes did an exquisite job of conveying Mirabelle's fragility. She's the opposite of fragile, herself, so it was quite a feat.
Lauren: She's wonderful at playing those birds with a broken wing.
Emma: She is. How did you feel about the veracity of a Claire Danes falling for - an albeit very rich - Steve Martin?
Lauren: It was so realistic. She's what, 28, waiting for someone to give her permission to live her life...and then he just shows up and seems to know everything. It's a very beguiling premise.
Emma: I'm not sure if it was so much give her permission as financially assist in, though. Not that I'm suggesting Mirabelle's motivation was anything other than pure. But I think we're supposed to see her as straitened by poverty.
Lauren: Well, it seemed pretty clear by the end that their break-up was the best thing that ever happened to her. It was only after their relationship ended that she got interesting. Sure, the money was extremely central in their affair. And much more so in the book!
Emma: Right! But it was dealt with in an interesting way, not simply rich dude splashing money on a girl.
Lauren: But I just felt like, a guy like Ray, if he wasn't rich, he would still find some other way to be available every other way than emotionally, e.g. fixing things around her house, or helping make some art world connections. I mean, money was just the thing he was most willing to offer so freely and so it became the language of their interaction.
Emma: I'm not sure about that! I see exactly what you mean, but I think he is one of those men whose raison d'etre can't be separated from his wealth. As you say, it was his mode of interaction.
Lauren: It's true - he can't really be separated from his money because that is one of the factors that both frees and isolates him from other people.
Emma: Although, the scene where he takes her to the doctor and takes care of her after she has anti-depressant withdrawal is very touching. And shows his love for her.
Lauren: Yes, but a little bit in an icky paternal way.
Emma: Yes! But that was totally one of the subtexts of their relationship.
Lauren: If even a subtext!
Emma: Right! Whereas Jason Schwartzman as Jeremy was presented as her male equivalent - flawed and struggling but with a beautiful soul.
Lauren: Oh yes, let's talk about Jason Schwartzman - he stole the show! I was amazed by how much he could amaze me.
Emma: What a revelation!
Lauren: In any other hands, that character would have been slapstick. And yet his performance is probably the brightest light in the film.
Emma: We were hooting with laughter during most of his scenes - yes, he never overplayed it. Fabulous comic timing.
Lauren: Really fabulous. It was obvious that he never fit in but was absolutely too oblivious to care, whereas with Mirabelle, the challenge seemed to be to stand out.
Emma: You're right. Not fade into the background like could so easily happen.
But Jeremy was just adorable. It killed me when he said to Mirabelle "I will protect you!"
Lauren: That was quite a declaration, made at the perfect moment. Now, what about Lisa's character? Her character, also archetypal, was really slimmed down in the film to what is essentially one comic scene.
Emma: Wow! Lisa! She was brilliantly done by Bridget Wilson-Sampras. So loathsome.
Lauren: Bridget did a great job of mastering the facial expressions of a slightly dim, conniving sexual & social climber.
Emma: It was absolutely in the facial expressions. And in the hair tossing.
Lauren: And really conveying what it would be like to only consider your outward appearance as your worth. It was a part that required an intense physical presence. And she did that well.
Emma: Your outward appearance and your fellatio technique.
Lauren: Her apartment was so vulgar I wanted to die of shame for her. With the fake flowers on the nightstand.
Emma: The candles! The sex toys!
Lauren: And the "dictator's bordello" deco scheme.
Emma: I think Bobby Trendy should offer a scheme with precisely that name.
Lauren: He's probably already got the glue gun and the fake feathers in hand.
Emma: Hee. So, you mentioned before that you thought it was highly autobiographical on Martin's part. Yet, he showed quite impressive insight into the character of Ray.
Lauren: Well yes, the narrative was obviously written by a wealthy connoisseur of fucking senseless women half his age.
Lauren: I mean, YEARS of observation (and... field work) had to have gone into developing the ability to tell that story flawlessly.
Emma: Gross but true.
Lauren: And it's entirely told from his perspective. Mirabelle is an astonishingly clueless person seen from the vantage point of someone who's been alive twice as long.
Emma: Indeed. I wouldn't be surprised if some on the therapist's couch analysis had informed some of his more insightful glimpses into the psyche of an aging player.
Lauren: Absolutely - it's remarkably self-aware.
Emma: When he says to Mirabelle he's bought a three-bedroom apartment "In case I meet someone and have kids." It's one of those moments you labeled kick-in-the-stomach.
Lauren: So casually tossed off, and yet so obviously nearly satirical…
Emma: But sadly men are that insensitive.
Lauren: I mean, it just seemed like another line he used to keep everything beyond his immediate needs at arms length. But god, yes - “anyone-but-you, darling” is a killer.
Emma: And when she responds, "Why don't you love me?" It's the simplicity that's heart-wrenching.
Lauren: Right - and who hasn't wanted to say precisely that in a situation where the emotional stakes are that high?
Emma: I know. It's such a delicate piece of acting on Danes' part, too.
Lauren: She does such a fantastic job of holding it all together and then just completely falling apart, with no visible cracks or fissures in her demeanor beforehand.
Emma: God, that's exactly it. She puts supreme effort into staying in control, most of the time, but then it just becomes too much.
Lauren: And it's so real, because there's no other way she could sustain her existence as Mirabelle if it wasn't all buried so deeply within her. But when Ray drops that line about, getting a place in New York – big in case he meets someone and has kids.... What else would Mirabelle do but fall apart?
Emma: I know, but what else would ANYONE do? This was part of the power of the film, I thought: we got these very particularized glimpses into people's souls, while they experienced stuff universally true.
Lauren: Universal truth is such a great way of putting it. It was a very soulful film.
Emma: And Martin shows such strange understanding of people and their flaws and frailties.
Lauren: Well, I wouldn't be surprised if he were more than a bit like Ray Porter in real life: alone, outside looking in, observing more than participating….
Emma: I think you must be right.
Lauren: It just came across as a very nuanced in an unsettingly authentic way.
Emma: Nuanced is it. And it never felt like the characters were being patronized, despite the close scrutiny they were placed under.
Lauren: Absolutely. It was like the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, where if a cup breaks, you glue it and get gold painted on the line where it cracked, with the idea being that it's more valuable now. It's imperfect, which is an essential truth.
Emma: Imperfect, and therefore practically perfect as a work of art. I would like to give this five out of five! Am I delirious?
Lauren: No - or I am delirious, too! Let's do it -- our first perfect score. Shopgirl deserves it.
Emma: Five out of five for the masterpiece that is Shopgirl!
Le Cineclub Rating:
(five out of a possible five peonies)