Mirabelle Buttersfield (Claire Danes) sells gloves at Saks, on a floor full of sparkling ball gowns. Day after day in the film “Shopgirl” (Touchstone Pictures), she is passed by for the glitter and sequins surrounding her. This is supposedly analogous to Mirabelle herself – having recently moved to L.A. from Vermont, she is a safely and simply elegant girl in a town full of sparkle and glitz.
“She needs to find her own confidence,” Danes said of her character in an interview with college media in D.C. “It’s inspiring when someone takes an interest in you, and it’s motivating.”
Viewers might find more worth-while to continue to pass Mirabelle by. The film, adapted from the novella of the same title by Steve Martin, is a flawed and patchy piece of cinema, which contains numerous plot holes. Claire Danes stars as Mirabelle, the girl in the dead-end career looking for love, which comes in the form of two suitors: the irresponsible and ill-mannered Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman) and the wealthy, emotionally aloof Ray (Steve Martin).
Much of the comic relief in the movie comes from Schwartzman, rather than from comedian Martin. Schwartzman, whose character eats McDonald’s fries with chopsticks and recommends using a Ziplock baggie as a condom, said he improvised frequently in the movie.
“The script was like a blueprint,” he said. “It makes me think of that Amish image of the people pulling a frame of a house up. (Director) Anand Tucker’s role was to inspect it, like, are the windows in the right place, do the doors open?”
Mirabelle gets swept up in Ray’s wealth and generosity, and even though he makes it clear that he is not in the relationship for the long haul, she falls deeply for him.
But what is the point? “Shopgirl” flows like any other relationship drama ever made, and a majority of the characters’ interactions are awkward, including Danes’ sex scenes.
“I play people doing things in life,” Danes said, “and one of the things that people do is have sex. People are very excited by the fact that I’m partially nude in this film, and I don’t know why. I guess it’s because sex makes us nervous and giggly.”
Though Martin served as actor, author and producer, Danes and Schwartzman said the creative process was not made more difficult by his multiple roles.
“I was a little intimidated by it,” Danes said, “but he was incredibly gracious and so inclusive. He made it clear that it was our story too.”
After being known for so long in well-loved roles – Danes as Angela Chase in the TV show “My So-Called Life,” and Schwartzman as his breakout role of Max Fischer in “Rushmore” – both say that they try to avoid similar roles.
“Once I’ve defined (a role) for myself, I’m not inclined to do it again and again,” Danes said, whose hair was back to blonde after playing the redheaded Mirabelle.
“It’s not up to me,” Schwartzman said. “I’m less cerebral when I’m choosing things – I go mostly on a gut feeling.”
“But I want to play a role like Angela Chase,” he quipped.
“I’d like to see that,” Danes said . “Hey, I’ll play Max Fischer.”
Schwartzman laughed. “We’ll do it for Halloween.”
“Shopgirl” will be in theaters nationwide Friday.