In 2005, Steve Martin adapted his book ‘Shopgirl’ to a film of the same name. It is a rare story where the principal narrative is a portrait of a female introvert that ends in joyful triumph and not self-inflicted tragedy.
It embraces the simple truth that introverts make brave decisions every day in order to shape their own destiny.
Mirabelle Buttersfield (Claire Danes) is a young woman in her twenties who by day works at the glove counter at Saks Fifth Avenue. By night she is an artist, heading out to secluded places to take flash-lit self-portraits. She transforms the images into pieces that depict her cocooned in blackness.
Mirabelle lives in a simple apartment with her cat, who seems to reside under the bed most of the time. Like her, the cat is mostly silent. Mirabelle’s life revolves around a daily routine of quiet industry behind the glove counter, quietly taking an anti-depressant, and diligently going about trying to fulfill her dream to become a full-time artist.
Her life shifts as she encounters two new people in her life. Ray (Steve Martin) is at least thirty years older than Mirabelle, quietly spoken and wealthy. Apart from the obvious, Ray is drawn to Mirabelle’s introversion, he is a quiet man himself, and as he pursues her he realises how much he also enjoys her company, her quiet intelligence, and sense of humour.
The other, Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman), is her contemporary. He is awkward and erratic and has no clue how to behave on a date. After a couple of awkward dates with Mirabelle, Jeremy seeks to find his destiny on the road with a rock band. While he is away he is encouraged by the lead singer of the band to improve himself with self-help books and tapes.
Mirabelle meanwhile has developed strong feelings for Ray. She experiences the thrill of having a gown custom-made for her. His gifts are lavish and thoughtful but there’s an unspoken trade-off. The gifts are supposed to compensate for Ray’s lack of commitment. Despite this Mirabelles relationship with Ray briefly flourishes and she feels so wonderful she decides she no longer needs her medication. After days of being in bed and not answering her phone, she confesses to Ray that she has stopped taking her anti-depressant. He immediately takes her to her doctor, brings her back to his hillside home above the city lights, and gently tucks her into bed. We see from this that Ray has genuine affection for Mirabelle. But it isn’t enough.
It soon becomes clear to Mirabelle however that there is no long-term future in her relationship with Ray. To be fair, Ray has been honest all along about his intentions with Mirabelle. The problem is he has been honest with his therapist, not with Mirabelle. Her world comes crashing down when he casually lets slip his plans to get married and have children. The implication is clear – he doesn’t see those things happening with Mirabelle.
Despite the loss of her relationship with Ray, Mirabelle soldiers on. She leaves her job at the glove counter and goes to work in an art gallery, taking a step closer to the life she wants.
In the meantime, Jeremy returns from his travels with a new outlook on life. He has a crisp new white suit, a gift from the lead singer of the band he toured with and it is symbolic of the confidence he now has. He’s a man who now understands what he wants his life to be.
He and Mirabelle meet again and she can see the changes in Jeremy. His newly discovered maturity signals to Mirabelle that perhaps he is a worthy partner.
The next time we see Ray he is outside the art gallery where Mirabelle is holding the first showing of her work. They greet each other with genuine affection and then part as Ray (in voiceover) acknowledges sadly, that in the end he was not worthy of her. He watches as Mirabelle turns toward Jeremy who is literally waiting with open arms, the perfect counterpoint to Ray who always kept her at a distance.
Mirabelles triumph isn’t that she is finally in a serious relationship and no longer has to go it alone. Her triumph is that she made it on her own.
It was her tenacity, perseverance and quiet self-belief that propelled her on after a devastating fall. Mirabelle is an introvert heroine for the ages, a woman of character and strength who didn’t change herself to achieve her dreams.
I think we need more stories like these.