Dir: Anand Tucker. US.2005. 106mins.

Shopgirl is a love letter to Clare Danes. The camera caressesher features, gazes adoringly into her tear-filled eyes and celebrates hertalent in a way that has rarely been seen since the MGM heyday of George Cukor.

If you weren't besotted byher before then you should be after seeing this. Steve Martin's elegant novellaon life's painful lessons has been transformed into an exquisite romantic dramaas plaintive as a weary sigh or a broken heart.

Beautifully crafted, this isa film that wears its emotions proudly on its sleeve, depicting the wonder andwounds of an affair with overblown orchestral accompaniment, imposing solemnityand a sophistication that may be too much for mainstream tastes to bear. As aspecialist item with a top-drawer cast it should be a class attraction. Itopens in the US on Oct 21 and in France and the UK in early December.

Set in a sun-kissed LosAngeles of gorgeous sunsets and star-filled night skies, Shopgirl'sfocus is one young woman adrift in a city where individuals struggle to makemeaningful connections.

Mirabelle (Danes) is fromVermont and has come in search of her destiny. She works in the glovedepartment of Saks Fifth Avenue, returning home to a modest apartment, a cat, asketchpad and her oppressive loneliness.

One night, she meetsdesigner Jeremy (Schwartzman), a scruffy, goofball charmer who lifts herspirits. She is also romanced by Ray Porter (Martin), a fabulously wealthyolder man who showers her with material goods but makes no promises about along-term commitment.

When Jeremy heads out on theroad with rock band Hot Tears, the coast is clear for Ray to sweep her off herfeet and ultimately break her heart.

An American Bridget Jones,Mirabelle comes more and more to seem like a tragic heroine from the novels ofTolstoy, Theodore Dreiser or Carson McCullers. Only as the film progresses dowe come to realise how vulnerable she is and how badly Porter disappoints her.

A welcome change of pace forMartin after one too many family-friendly, slapstick comedies, Shopgirlis a melancholy tale reminiscent of the kind of 'serious', slightly constipatedBergmanesque dramas that Woody Allen made between his more characteristicfeatures of the 1970s and 1980s.

It is a film that revels inits literary qualities, with Martin providing the sparingly used voice-overnarration reflecting on all the experiences that crowd into Mirabelle's life.Martin the actor gives a sombre, chilly reading of the financially wealthy butspiritually bankrupt older man who, like F Scott Fitzgerald's Gatsby, may windup being haunted by the girl who got away.

The men in Mirabelle's lifeare a study in contrasts and Schwarztman brings an abundance of winning charmto the eccentric, offbeat Jeremy.

But despite her distinguishedco-stars, Shopgirl is Danes' film from start to finish. The cameraconstantly seems to be trying to catch her offguard as she walks across a room,turns her gaze towards us, strips for her devoted admirer or poses in a blackglove like Rita Hayworth's Gilda.

She is every inch the moviegoddess but also a compelling enough actress to convey the suffering andanguish of Mirabelle.

Production companies
Touchstone Pictures
Hyde Park Entertainment

International sales
Hyde Park Entertainment

US distribution
Buena Vista

Executive producer
Andrew Sugerman

Ashok Amritraj
Jon Jashni
Steve Martin

Peter Suschitzky

Steve Martin from his novella

Production design
William Arnold

David Gamble

Barrington Pheloung

Main cast
Clare Danes
Steve Martin
Jason Schwartzman
Bridgette Wilson-Sampras