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"Stranded in the vast openness of L.A." That's how Shopgirl's narrator describes Mirabelle Buttersfield, a lonely single woman dutifully marking time in her job at the glove counter at Saks Fifth Avenue. Mirabelle's lingering glance at an affectionate elderly couple shopping in the store tells us everything we need to know about her unmet longing for love. Her only solace comes from black-and-white sketches she draws in her free time.
But Mirabelle's isolation is punctured by the unexpected appearance of not one but two would-be suitors—two men who could hardly be more different. At the Laundromat, Mirabelle meets Jeremy, a disheveled graphic artist who's as long on romantic ideas as he is short on money, direction and, well, hygiene. Jeremy's hardly the stuff of stable, long-term relationships, but a talk-radio broadcast convinces Mirabelle that something is better than nothing, and she invites him over for a fling a couple days after their first miserable date.
No sooner has Mirabelle given herself to this ill-advised coupling than Bachelor No. 2 shows up pretending to be a regular customer. Ray Porter is everything Jeremy isn't: rich, charming, self-confident and about 25 years Mirabelle's senior. Her initial hesitancy melts under the heat of Ray's affection and lavish gifts. Three dates later finds the couple in bed together and Mirabelle well on her way to happily ever after. Or so it would seem.
Meanwhile, an unlikely series of events gives Jeremy the chance to become a roadie for a rock band, and the road provides clarity, triggering a personal transformation. When Jeremy re-enters Mirabelle's life intent upon pursuing her, she has to make some critical decisions about what she values most in life.
On one hand, there's little that's obviously positive about Shopgirl. From a strictly content-oriented perspective, Mirabelle has sexual relationships with two men outside of marriage. On the other, the movie unflinchingly illustrates how destructive casual sex can be.
After he sweeps Mirabelle off her feet and into his bed, Ray informs her that he's really not looking for anything more than an overnight hookup when he's in town (he owns homes and conducts business in both Seattle and Los Angeles). He genuinely likes Mirabelle but not enough to make a commitment to her. Mirabelle tries to convince herself that the "terms" of the relationship are OK. But she's unable to do so, as her heart is simply too attached to Ray to settle for sex alone. She eventually tells him, "I can hurt now, or I can hurt later." The ultimate fruit of their relationship for Mirabelle is despondency, depression and a haunting sense that she's throwing away her heart, losing it to a man who doesn't care enough to protect it.
Ray is not a good man. But he's not wicked, either. The rich, lonely divorcé knows that what he's doing is wrong and apologizes to Mirabelle more than once. But he simply cannot find the courage to commit to a real relationship with her. In the end, the narrator tells us that Ray's mistake was wanting to have part of Mirabelle without accepting all of her. So in its own way, Shopgirl critiques the myth that two consenting adults can enjoy a purely physical relationship without someone getting hurt. It suggests, rightly, that sexual intimacy and lasting commitment are inseparable.
Early in their relationship, Jeremy rants to Mirabelle about how his employer, Holy Dog Amplifiers, doesn't understand how to market its products. Mirabelle tells him he should do something about it—a constructive criticism that motivates Jeremy. He then develops a profitable relationship with a rock band called Hot Tears. In turn, the Zen-like lead singer introduces Jeremy to romantic self-help books that equip him to pursue Mirabelle. Overall, Jeremy's transformation illustrates that real change is possible and that dreams are worth pursuing.
The lead singer of Hot Tears encourages Jeremy to listen to yoga and relaxation CDs. Mirabelle's co-worker, Lisa, always has a cross dangling down into her (usually exposed) cleavage.
Shopgirl's plot revolves around Mirabelle's sexual relationships with Ray and Jeremy. Mirabelle has sex once with Jeremy and perhaps half-a-dozen times with Ray. A couple of those scenes include visually explicit images, but the majority are filmed relatively discreetly. When Jeremy and Mirabelle have sex, we hear sounds and see his bare torso. Mirabelle's first sexual encounter with Ray includes a full shot of her lying naked on her stomach. In the rest of Mirabelle and Ray's sexual encounters, they begin to kiss or touch, and then we see them in bed together afterwards.
Mirabelle is frequently shown getting ready for dates in various stages of undress: in the bathtub shaving her legs, in a towel, etc. None of these scenes includes explicit nudity, though we do see Mirabelle showering through a foggy shower door.
[Spoiler Warning] On a business trip, it's visually implied that Ray cheats on Mirabelle with an older woman. Ray confesses his indiscretion to Mirabelle, who is devastated and breaks off the relationship. They reconnect later, but Mirabelle won't have sex with him again immediately. (She does give in eventually.)
During a Jeremy-Lisa tryst, she's shown in a negligee and the implication is that she handcuffs him to the bed. (This scene also shows a bottle of explicitly titled lubrication lotion.) Looking through binoculars, Mirabelle spies Jeremy in his living room with his hand down his pants (apparently masturbating, though, thankfully, it isn't completely clear).
Several scenes include frank discussions about sex, oral sex, condoms and substitutes for condoms. Mirabelle's cat pounces on Jeremy during sex. One of Mirabelle's sketches is of a nude woman.
Crude or Profane Language
For an R-rated movie, Shopgirl has surprisingly little vulgar language. Characters turn God's name into an exclamation a half-dozen times. There's one use each of the s-word and "a--," and possibly an indistinct use of the f-word.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Wine could be nominated for a best supporting prop award in Shopgirl. Though no characters are shown drunk, they do imbibe frequently. Ray is a lonely man, and wine is his constant companion. Not only does he order vino for himself and Mirabelle on their dates (and pours them glasses at home, too), he drinks alone in his house and on his private jet. In a low moment, Mirabelle drinks a beer by herself at a bar.
As Mirabelle's relationship with Ray progresses, she's so happy that she goes cold turkey on her antidepressants—and promptly crashes emotionally. Ray helps her get started again, and we watch as she dutifully takes the first pill in a new round of medication (which she obviously needs).
Other Negative Elements
Jeremy and the members of the band stop the bus at the side of the road and urinate together (the scene is filmed from behind the group, and sound effects let us know what's happening).
Shopgirl brings Steve Martin's best-selling novella to life by painting a poignant, painful picture of the consequences of soulless sex. Even as Ray's and Mirabelle's bodies unite, we see that sex alone is not enough to sustain a relationship. The film shows that physical intimacy promises a depth of emotional connection that it can never deliver apart from a lasting, committed relationship.
By the end of the film, Mirabelle is just beginning to take this costly lesson to heart—a hopeful conclusion for a woman who has given all of herself to someone who only wanted part of her. Shopgirl, then, is a cautionary tale for others who might confuse sex with true love and commitment. But it doesn't exercise enough caution itself in the telling, showing us more than any of us should see to make its point.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Claire Danes as Mirabelle Buttersfield; Steve Martin as Ray Porter; Jason Schwartzman as Jeremy; Bridget Wilson-Sampras as Lisa Cramer
Anand Tucker ( Leap Year)