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Gender and Social Class: An Analysis of "Shopgirl"

Updated on April 5, 2015
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I have a B.A. in English with a minor in Gender and Sexuality Studies. I've been a Goth since age fourteen, and a Pagan since age fifteen.

Los Angeles. Published on 28 February 2014 Stock photo - Image ID: 100240012
Los Angeles. Published on 28 February 2014 Stock photo - Image ID: 100240012 | Source

Released in 2005, the film Shopgirl is written by and based on Steve Martin's novella of the same name. In its simplest analysis it is a Cinderella-type of story, but doesn't end with a servant woman marrying a prince. This story's Cinderella is looking for a man who can do more than financially provide for her. She is looking for emotional connection and maturity within the busy city life of Los Angeles.

Have you seen the film "Shopgirl?"

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

Mirabelle Buttersfield (Claire Danes) works as a saleswoman at Saks Fifth Avenue. Like all salespeople, she is working in a position that caters to the upper-class while she continues to make far less, and struggles to pay off loans. Although she longs for a deep connection with someone, she often goes with the flow, making the best of whatever comes her way.

As an outsider, her life appears to be a never-ending dull existence. In the beginning of the story, no one would probably want to sit down with Mirabelle to ask about her life because it lacks excitement; however, what makes her so intriguing is her ordinariness. Anyone could be her. She is the heroine of the story, not just because it is about her life, but because it is about an ordinary middle-class woman with common struggles who is able to change her life, after losing the relationship that made her life fascinating. She chooses to stop working as a saleswoman, and begins working at an art gallery where she can be surrounded by what she loves after learning she deserves more.

Published on 29 October 2009 Stock photo - Image ID: 1009242
Published on 29 October 2009 Stock photo - Image ID: 1009242 | Source

Mirabelle: Are you the kind of person that takes time to get to know, and then once you get to know them... they're fabulous?

Jeremy Kraft: Yes, absolutely... What?

Jeremy Kraft (Jason Schwartzman) connects with Mirabelle as a fellow artist, but lacks a sense of direction. He's awkward, intense, and forward about any thoughts that come into his mind. His maturity develops during his journey to gain her love which turns into a journey of bettering himself, first. Everyone has some of Jeremy's personality inside them. Anyone with determination, but a loss as to how to make those goals happen could relate to his character.

Jeremy is a perfect example of many young men with issues becoming adults; however, society expects these men to change in a financial way just as much as in character. This is not the case. 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 changing himself for the better. Mirabelle is impressed by balance and confidence rather than by wealth.

Published on 03 January 2012 Stock photo - Image ID: 10067792
Published on 03 January 2012 Stock photo - Image ID: 10067792 | Source

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.

Ray Porter (Steve Martin) is reserved, and primarily focused on his image. He is financially stable as a logician, and knows how to impress others through behaving like any upper-class man is expected to act, but it's a front; underneath, he is emotionally insecure because of his fears of abandonment and social ridicule. He mentions to his friend or therapist that Mirabelle is "too young" for him. So, he abandons her, believing he will save himself from pain. In the end, his emotional distance hurts them both; therefore, he becomes emotionally mature through losing Mirabelle rather than during the process of pursuing her. He realizes he was in denial about loving her, as well as wanting more from the relationship.

When we think of wealthy people, especially men, we think of their lives as something to aspire to; whether that be wanting to marry them or wanting to be them. 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 emotional connection.

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.

Unlike Mirabelle, Lisa Cramer (Bridgette Wilson) is not looking for emotional connection, 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 a mirrored image of Ray because she wants what he thinks he wants—a relationship about sex and money, and if he 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, when she tries to take Mirabelle's relationship—by thinking she sleeps with Ray, she fails while Mirabelle wins, without knowing. While only a one-night stand, the relationship between Jeremy and Lisa is the same as the one between Ray and Mirabelle because one wants connection and the other wants money. In a way, Mirabelle's relationship with Lisa, as an aquaintence, forces Lisa to reassess her ability to control everything to keep herself fulfilled. She underestimates Mirabelle, and overestimates herself.

In this story, the most in control characters do not turn out to be as clever as they think they are while the characters searching for connection find what they're looking for. 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 the audience more to analyze.

© 2015 social thoughts


Submit a Comment
  • social thoughts profile imageAUTHOR

    social thoughts 

    4 years ago from New Jersey

    Thank you, lawrence01! I am so glad you enjoyed this!

  • lawrence01 profile image

    Lawrence Hebb 

    4 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

    Just about every movie Steve Martin makes is a bit of a social commentary. What makes it work is the characters are just people we meet every day Enjoyed the hub

  • social thoughts profile imageAUTHOR

    social thoughts 

    4 years ago from New Jersey

    Yes, 'the' Steve Martin. He isn't just a comedian. He has many sides, like anyone else, and that is why he did it! I am glad to inspire you to watch and/or read it!

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 

    4 years ago from Olympia, WA

    Steve Martin wrote the novella? The Steve Martin??? Well isn't that interesting? I have not seen this but now I want to. Thanks, Kailey.


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