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Claire Danes looking good

Claire Danes looking good

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A serene luminescence surrounds Claire Danes in Shopgirl. A glowing halo practically caresses her lithe body in this minor-key romance about a lovely yet lonely Saks clerk, an aspiring artist named Mirabelle who is torn between polar-opposite suitors.

Dressed in breathtaking vintage ensembles while displaying a heart-crushing vulnerability, the 26-year-old actress -- reduced of late to action drivel (Terminator 3) or bit roles (The Hours) -- finally fulfills the potent promise of her mid-'90s TV series My So-Called Life.

Los Angeles doesn't look half-bad, either. When director Anand Tucker (Hilary and Jackie) isn't training his camera on the jewel-like traffic lights below or the sparkling cosmos above, he portrays the City of Angels as a haven of spare elegance and urbane stylishness, as if it were Woody Allen's Manhattan but with better weather and inviting outdoor pools.

But save for savoring Danes and an L.A. cleansed of gaudy excess, there is little that is truly novel about Shopgirl, adapted by co-star Steve Martin from his 2001 novella.

Mirabelle meets Jeremy, a squirrelly loser (a semi-amusing Jason Schwartzman, who has gone this misfit route once too often) at a laundromat.

He borrows change and feebly wrangles a date, a sad outing that consists of staring at others having fun at Universal Citywalk. When Mirabelle unwisely beckons him into her bedroom, Jeremy discovers that what he thought was a condom in his pocket is actually a breath mint. "Do you have a baggy?" he asks pathetically.

Then there is Martin's Ray, a much older man of wealth, taste and all the right moves who exchanges witty chitchat with Mirabelle while buying $145 gloves, and ends up sending them to her house along with an invite to dinner.

Pretending to admire her cheap Timex, he unstraps the timepiece, circles her delicate wrist with his fingers and says, "Now, I'm your watch."

Though Ray professes upfront that he doesn't want a permanent relationship, he nonetheless sweeps Mirabelle off her dainty feet with expensive gifts, takeout from Spago and much-needed affection (in a Freudian aside, her father is revealed as a distant shell).

A subdued Martin is brave enough to play Ray as a thoughtless heel while skirting icky predatory overtones.

But like his silver-maned paramour, the film ultimately lets Mirabelle down and leaves the viewer dissatisfied. A Lost in Translation drained of its wryly observed humor, Shopgirl is worth a browse. But it isn't always easy to buy.

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© Copyright 2004 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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