Thursday, October 27, 2005

Shopgirl Bloodbath!

On Sunday my sister and I went to see Shopgirl. We love Claire Danes, we love Steve Martin. Well, I start to lose it during a scene where Danes is doing nothing more than sitting on her futon in blanketous white pajamas, sniffling so stoically and gracefully because (I think I got this right) she has stopped taking her antidepressant and Steve Martin does not love her. Stop crying! I say to myself. It has been a very long time since I've read Pauline Kael other than the capsule reprints in the "Goings On About Town" section of The New Yorker, but I think that she would not approve of me losing it at a movie that really is nothing more about some girl who isn't getting what she wanted out of life. I think: Anthony Lane would probably hate this film. Stop crying! But then a few scenes later my sister loses it. We exit the theatre and a tall man asks me what movie is everyone crying over, and I feel a bit better because I thought we were the only sentimental fools.

What made it so sad? asked a friend who also wanted to see it. I tell her that it was that this was the first time I think I'd seen this particular sort of female yearning and loneliness, the kind that is a particularly urban female yearning and loneliness, put up on screen. Plus it was communicated largely silently through Danes' face. And her character acts in so much good faith but is let down by the men who were drawn to her (precisely because of the radiant good faith). Oh, says my friend in recognition, the usual girl story.

The usual girl story. And how often does that get told without stilettoes and vibrators and velvet ropes and pink drinks and glib wisecracks as props? And without being something based on a book by Jennifer Weiner that inspires weirdly long stories in the Times about the shoes that serve as the story's main metaphor. (Ms. Weiner, I will read your books one of these days because you are from Philly and somehow got Elaine Showalter to give you props, but chick lit deserves the disrespect it gets, and you can't convince me otherwise.) And when will the female condition ever be extrapolated by audiences and readers into something approximating the human condition? [Raise fist to sky here.]

Which is why David Edelstein's Slate review made me wanna throw stuff. And I usually enjoy him. It is not that I can refute him point by point, because I do see how the movie can rank "among the most noneventful romantic triangles ever committed to celluloid" and is "sadly vacuous, with a sadly vacuous center." I see how it's really no better than Pretty In Pink with Richard Neutra houses and she makes drawings not dresses to show that she is Creative and Unique. But having been what he calls "a blob of neediness" I must object, even though I know my objections are entirely personal in nature. It should not be the chief end of art to make you feel better about your own girl misfitness. But re: the nonevent, Virginia Woolf tells us that "life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged" and obviously he has never been a young woman in a big city baffled by her own desires while being simultaneously hampered and bolstered by a moral center. Because the film nails that. And I think his objective critical faculties may be clouded by the subjective: I bet he probably had to pick off a few blobs of neediness back in the day, and it made him tired. My other friend pointed out, astutely, that perhaps he suffered from the same male narcissism he spotted in Martin and his character, but had to annihilate it rather than own up to it and/or merely acknowledge it as a phenomenon. Also, I smell some misogyny. Dude, if you had ever been on the business end of male withholding, you might feel differently. (I should mention I love men. Really.)

Finally: "In any case, the best performance is by Bridgette Wilson-Sampras as the conniving but peppy slut at the perfume counter. Her big scene—farcical, filthy, surprising—is also the best in the movie." Screw you, Monsieur Edelstein, for privileging the peppy slut when I can get that always and everywhere from Us Weekly and oh, nearly every corner of culture? See--I told you this was personal.

For a really good appreciation of Danes, who is doing what Molly Ringwald (straight face, y'all!) should have done when she got older but ended up making Fresh Horses and Betsy's Wedding (the latter I paid to see in the theatre because my love knew no bounds), see Suzy Hansen's New York Observer story of last week. Once I figure out how to link, I will, but I think you all know how to Google.