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Tender and true


Some girls are obvious, and some girls are not. The charming and graceful Shopgirl is a tribute to the latter as well as to those with the ability to appreciate the one milling in the corner rather than the one gyrating on the bar.

Steve Martin adapted his best-selling novella for director Anand Tucker (Hilary and Jackie) and both co-stars in and narrates this tale of a quiet young woman who unwittingly turns the heads of two very different men.

Mirabelle (Claire Danes, in possibly the most open and effortless performance of the year) sells swanky gloves at a lonely Saks counter by day and passes solitary evenings with her drawings and her books. In rapid succession she first meets spazzy slacker Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman, in dire need of a hot bath), and then Ray (an understated Martin), a wealthy older man who sweeps Mirabelle off her feet. Ray makes it abundantly clear he's not looking for anything serious, though his boundless acts of generosity seem to indicate otherwise.

But that's how Ray shows his affection, whereas Mirabelle achieves heartbreaking heights of vulnerability thanks to her depth of feeling. Jeremy, meanwhile, has hit the road with a band as part of his job, making good use of downtime on the tour bus with some self-help material.

There will be betrayal, revelation, and redemption, and Mirabelle must decide whether to "hurt now or hurt later." She will also get what she needs, which usually proves to be more fulfilling than getting what you want.

My last memory of Martin playing something other than comedy was his menacing turn in David Mamet's The Spanish Prisoner, and while he doesn't exactly scream "sex," the part of the alluring cad is actually not a bad fit for him. If I were a betting man --- I am truthfully neither --- I would posit that Mirabelle's two suitors represent the warring sides of Martin: The zany artist and the elegant gent. And watch for Martin's Prisoner co-star Rebecca Pidgeon (aka Mrs. Mamet) as a woman from Ray's past, as well as Six Feet Under's Frances Conroy in a spare cameo as Mirabelle's mom.

The guy portraying Luther, Jeremy's sage musician buddy, is Red House Painters and Sun Kil Moon frontman Mark Kozelek. He's been in a couple of Cameron Crowe films --- Kozelek is the one who started the bus singing "Tiny Dancer" in Almost Famous --- and his easygoing screen presence complements Schwartzman's manic charisma nicely. Shopgirl features two Sun Kil Moon tunes, most notably the achingly fitting "Carry Me Ohio" which plays during one particularly poignant scene between Mirabelle and Ray.

Then again, everything about Shopgirl is, to borrow the narrator's words, "tender and true."

Shopgirl (R), directed by Anand Tucker, is playing at Greece Ridge 12, Henrietta 18, and Pittsford Cinema.