Anand Tucker doesn't care if you hate Shopgirl. Just don't twiddle your thumbs.
The director and Jason Schwartzman, who portrays one of Claire Danes' two love interests in the film (Steve Martin is the other), clown for photographs behind the counter of the gift shop at the Four Seasons. Schwartzman leans over in imitation of Danes' pose in the movie's poster. The telephone rings, and Schwartzman picks it up. "This is Jason," he says with a smirk. But when he discovers the call is about real work, not make believe, the actor begs off and invites the caller to try again later.
The search for a higher level of truth about human relationships is at the core of Shopgirl, both the Martin novella and the Martin screenplay. "The movie's about the dance of love, a meditation on loneliness," Tucker says. "I'd rather people really like the movie or really not like the movie, instead of just think it's OK."
Tucker, a Brit whose last time in the director's chair was for Hilary and Jackie, describes his style as "ambiguous and European." The cuts are less frequent, the pace more languid than the stereotypical American film. "The camera moves slower," he says. "You have to sit with yourself rather than be entertained all the time. Most modern films are too frightened to let you think." Tucker takes inspiration from melodramatic films of the past such as those directed by Douglas Sirk, and in particular Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's Stairway to Heaven, the 1946 film in which David Niven must plead his case of love before a court in heaven. "There's something about movies that are not afraid to wear their heart on their sleeve," Tucker says, "but never tell you what to feel."
Tucker remembers a tense flight from London to New York to meet with Martin about the project. "I realized I've got to tell him what I think," Tucker said. "I found him to be a supreme collaborator." Case in point is Schwartzman's Jeremy, one of the least written characters in the script. Martin didn't balk when Schwartzman added his own touches, like having Jeremy carry a flashlight backstage at rock concerts and "illuminate" the way for others. But the film ultimately belongs to Danes. "Sometimes when they say action all the air goes out of the room, but that doesn't happen with Claire," Schwartzman says. "I wasn't thinking about anything but looking in Claire's eyes. She animated me in a bizarre way."
Seven years ago, Schwartzman was a revelation when Rushmore had a sneak at the Austin Film Festival. Now, in Shopgirl, he comes in with an established reputation for quirky, sweet screen turns. "When Rushmore happened it was brand new, life changing, and heart opening," Schwartzman says, the reality slipping to the forefront again. "It was like breathing for the first time. Now I just try to be the best I can. I try to stay with it and not think behind or ahead. There's nothing too romantic about it."
Copyright © 2023 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.