Shopgirl is a quiet gem that reveals its themes so slowly and subtly, it may not be until after its over that it occurs to you what just happened. The characters dont stumble on major revelations in fact, the central romance is not a Big Love for either of the characters involved and the movie never tells us how to feel. Instead, it assumes well engage enough with the characters to figure out how we feel about them.
Mirabelle (Claire Danes, acting with an ache so deep shes practically transparent) is the shopgirl, a bright, creative woman who barely makes a living selling evening gloves, a luxury product so useless that even the people who can afford them no longer buy them. Mirabelle is lonely, and Shopgirl is a movie that suggests loneliness is a disease that is sometimes curable and sometimes not.
Two people who enter Mirabelles life suggest those possibilities. Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman) is a goofball who barely has the attention span to remember hes on a date with Mirabelle (Hey, Jason: Steve Zahn called and said its OK for you to borrow his hyperactive performance because youre good at it, too). Ray (Steve Martin, who wrote the novella on which Shopgirl is based) is elegant, aloof and practiced at keeping other people at arms length.
Like the book, the movie is precise, spare, witty. The decor in each characters home, for instance, is revealing. The camera usually observes them from a distance, so the rare close-ups feel naked and intrusive.
Because it is so specific in every detail, its clear were not supposed to generalize. Shopgirl is not saying that May/December relationships are a bad idea, but there are hints the relationship between Ray and Mirabelle is, for reasons having nothing to do with age.
With one devastating exception, the people in Shopgirl are afraid to use words like "love." Instead, they sidle up to love, trying to catch it unawares. In one scene, Mirabelles friends tell her she can find out how Ray feels about her by suddenly calling him "sweetheart" and seeing how he reacts. Most movies would cut immediately to Mirabelle doing just that, but Shopgirl doesnt. It takes its time, and the way her friends advice plays out is like everything else in this movie: Lovely, unexpected and right.