Shopgirl Anand Tucker

They say that great books often make mediocre movies and that mediocre books often make great movies. So what happens when someone decides to adapt a well-written but ultimately problematic novella? The result is a meticulously planned (as noted over and over again by director Anand Tucker in his exuberantly humble commentary), well-intended but ultimately problematic film. Adapting, producing and starring in his own work, Steve Martin turns his meditation on May/December romances and loneliness into a melancholy comedy that unsuccessfully tries to blend humour and pathos. Claire Danes gives an uncomfortably realistic, empathetic performance as the title character, a reclusive depressive looking for love but settling for sex, but her emotional journey is largely unsatisfying, as her understanding of her own self-worth seems to be linked to two unworthy suitors. On the one hand, there is Ray (Steve Martin, never quite finding the right balance between awkward and smarmy), an older, successful entrepreneur who is as commitment phobic as he is wealthy. On the other hand, there is Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman), a struggling logo designer representing one giant slacker stereotype of stalled ambition, social ineptitude and bad hair. One is never quite sure why the former is able to bring her out of her shell while the latter is even supposed to be remotely appealing as a viable option. As a symbol of her initial desperation, maybe, but overall the entire affair seems more like male fantasy than a thought-provoking exploration of relationships and the sticky nature of intimacy. Saddling her with these two alternatives almost seems to be mocking more conventional romantic comedies, which would be an interesting concept except that the creators genuinely seem to want the audience to have compassion for everyone involved. The script suggests that all Mirabelle needs to lift her out of her funk is — gag — the love of a good man and yet the narrative never rises to the challenge. The most engaging aspects of the film are the subtly beautiful cinematography and extraordinary attention paid to detail in general, but the effects of both are muted on the small screen and only serve as a reminder of how inferior the story is to the production design. Extras include an extensive, informative commentary by the director (referencing everyone from Modigliani to Eisenstein without sounding pretentious), two deleted scenes and an "Evolution of the Novella” featurette. (Buena Vista/Touchstone)