Shopgirl Anand Tucker

After a few years of box office glory through mediocre "family" films like Bringing Down The House and Cheaper By The Dozen, Steve Martin seems to be attempting to use his renewed power for good in Shopgirl. Based on Martin's novella of the same name and directed by Anand Tucker (Hilary and Jackie), Shopgirl is Martin's most motivated project in the past decade, and he isn't even the star. Martin plays Ray Porter, a wealthy 50-something with some intimacy issues and a knack for misogyny. He plays sugar daddy to a young "shopgirl" named Mirabelle Buttersfield (Claire Danes) who is struggling to find herself within the shallow landscape of modern Los Angeles. Mirabelle ditches her musician boyfriend (Jason Schwartzman) once Ray starts buying her love but is soon caught in a struggle with loneliness when Ray has little to offer her beyond that. The premise could have easily fallen into redundancy but the one thing Shopgirl has going for it is that it's an interesting and surprisingly original story that has a lot of potential. However, with misguided direction by Tucker and a miscast Martin as Ray (apparently, he wanted his own vanity project, but watching him make out with Danes is a bit unsettling), Shopgirl falls apart just as it appears to be pulling itself together. Martin and Tucker take the narrative too seriously, destroying the quirkiness that made the novella so enchanting. Despite this, Danes works hard to give her character a soul even when her director and screenwriter try to take it away, and as a result the film unquestionably becomes hers to take. (Touchstone Pictures)