Gender and Social Class: An Analysis of “Shopgirl”

Released in 2005, the film Shopgirl is written by Steve Martin and based on his novella of the same name. In its simplest analysis it is a Cinderella story, but it doesn’t end with a servant woman marrying a prince. This time, Cinderella is looking for a man who can do more than financially provide for her.

Mirabelle Buttersfield (Claire Danes) works as a saleswoman at Saks Fifth Avenue in the busy city of Los Angeles. Like all salespeople, she is working in an environment that caters to the upper-class, all while continuing to scrape by, struggling to pay off student loans. Although she longs for a meaningful relationship with someone, she often goes with the flow, making the best of whatever comes her way.

To the outsider, Mirabelle’s life appears to be a never-ending game of waiting for something to happen. In the beginning of the story, no one would probably want to sit down with her because her life is void of excitement; however, what makes her so intriguing is her ordinariness. Anyone could be her. She represents a typical, young middle-class woman with common problems. The climax of the story is when she finds the strength to end the very relationship that gives her life the color it desperately wanted because she is learning that she deserves more. She embraces her authentic self and changes her life around to become extraordinary. She stops working as a saleswoman and starts her career with an art gallery. This way, she can be surrounded by what she loves and opened to opportunities she is worthy to take.

Mirabelle: So, I can either hurt now or hurt later.

Jeremy Kraft (Jason Schwartzman) connects with Mirabelle as a fellow undiscovered artist; unfortunately, he doesn’t have a sense of direction. He’s awkward, intense, and forward about any thoughts that come into his mind. During his journey to gain Mirabelle’s love, he embarks on a journey to love himself, first. Everyone has some of Jeremy’s personality inside them. Anyone with determination to live a life of passion but confusion as to how to get there could relate.

Jeremy is a perfect example of many young men with issues becoming adults. Society expects these men to succeed financially just as much as in character, as snobby business types. Rather than show a hyper but lost young man becoming a millionaire in order to get ahead in his love life, the story shows a man earning the respect of a woman by maturing on his own. Mirabelle is impressed by balance and confidence rather than by arrogance and wealth.

Jeremy: Yeah, but I’ll protect you.

Ray Porter (Steve Martin) is reserved and primarily focused on his own image. As a logician, he is employed and experienced in how to impress others through behaving like any upper-class man is expected, but it’s an act; underneath, he is emotionally insecure. It quickly becomes apparent that he has deep fears of abandonment and social ridicule, which he hides through an attitude of indifference. He mentions privately that Mirabelle is “too young” for him. So, he keeps his distance, believing that it will save himself the pain of a real relationship. In the end, this choice causes them both equal harm; therefore, he becomes emotionally mature through losing Mirabelle rather than during the process of pursuing her. He realizes that he was in denial about loving her.

When we think of how the wealthy live, we think of their lives as something to aspire to. Lower-class folks dream to have that degree of security and to keep it. We don’t usually consider that they are still people with their own problems, even if those problems do not include their financial stability. Seeing someone that successful turn out to be such a wreck reminds us of the importance of relationships.

Ray Porter (narrator):…How is it possible, he thinks, to miss a woman whom he kept at a distance so that when she was gone he would not miss her. Only then does he realize that wanting part of her and not all of her had hurt them both and how he cannot justify his actions except that… well… it was life.

Unlike Mirabelle, Lisa Cramer (Bridgette Wilson) is not looking for a personal relationship, but a wealthy sugar daddy. To accomplish this, she is a master manipulator who fights to be the center of attention in every situation. She is exactly like the women that Ray is accustomed to. She wants a relationship about sex and money. If Ray were to have chosen Lisa he would have never grown as a person. She would have confirmed what he already feared to be true about relationships.

Although Lisa seems to have a talent for getting what she wants, it comes back to get her. When she tries to sleep with Ray for his money, she fails without knowing it at first. Meanwhile, her accidental relationship with Jeremy ends up as disappointing as the one Mirabelle has with Ray. Like Mirabelle, Jeremy wants a partner. Like Ray, Lisa wants material things. Mirabelle’s relationship with Lisa, as an acquaintance, forces Lisa to reassess her ability to control everything to keep herself fulfilled. She underestimates Mirabelle and overestimates herself.

Lisa Cramer: You want some advice? You never call him. But if he calls you, you talk to him, then act like you have another call. Keep him on hold for a long time. Like longer than you think is possible. And break dates. Always break dates. Right around the holidays ’cause then he’s just stuck.

In this story, the characters with seemingly the most control do not turn out to be as clever as they think they are, but the characters searching for something real find it. This may not be true to life, considering that many undeserving people succeed while the ones striving for better often find shortcomings, but it does provide commentary on these social issues and gives some relief, if only experienced vicariously through fictional characters.

Side Note: This essay was revised and republished from the author’s original version on HubPages.

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