I’m a big fan of the comedic actors who one day turn all serious in order to earn credibility among peers and critics alike. It makes my heart sing when I see an actor well known for playing slapsticky, over-the-top goofy characters take on kinder, gentler, thought-provoking roles, and play them well. Prime examples of this phenomenon include Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Bill Murray in Lost in Translation – two of my favorite movies of all time.
When I heard about Shopgirl, I was happy to see yet another funnyman-turned-dramatic actor. This time it’s all about Steve Martin and his novella about a painfully shy and quiet young woman living in Los Angeles, quite invisibly working behind the glove counter of a department store, waiting for her life to begin. Clare Danes plays Mirabelle, the “shop girl” in question, who appears to be going through some sort of quarter life crisis (aren’t we all?). She’s alone in a big city, and what’s worse, she’s feeling the deep pangs of loneliness. Until she meets someone.
That someone is Jeremy, played by the talented Jason Schwartzman (who was in Rushmore alongside Bill Murray, which I think was his precursory role to his recent stint as a serious actor). Mirabelle and Jeremy meet, and they hit it off. Sort of. Jeremy is scattered and quirky. But he’s lovable and sweet. Mirabelle asks him after their first date, “Are you the kind of person that takes time to get to know, and then once to get to know them … they’re fabulous?” His answer is yes, absolutely.
But Mirabelle doesn’t spend much time getting to know the real Jeremy, because all of a sudden she meets Ray, a much-older and well-to-do man played by Steve Martin. Ray sweeps Mirabelle off her feet, filling in the obvious fatherly void in her life. Theirs is a classic May-December romance, except that Ray has no intention of a serious relationship with Mirabelle. But she seems OK with the arrangement because she is finally getting the attention she had been craving, living by herself in an unfamiliar place.
Even though Martin wrote the story, I’m not sure he was the best choice to play the character of Ray. That perhaps this particular role wasn’t quite the right transition from funny to serious. There are moments that are downright creepy between him and Mirabelle, as if we’re not supposed to be witnessing the interactions between the two lovers, even though the characters are clearly consenting adults. But then again, perhaps Martin was a good choice to play Ray because as the author he knew exactly how the character should come off on screen – edgy, tense and uneasy, which he does.
At any rate, the story smacks of Lost of Translation’s younger girl/older man will-they-or-won’t-they-get-together plotline. And though the tone of the film is mostly serious, there are some hilarious scenes consisting of a sweatshirt zipper, a mint and a cat. Schwartzman is genuinely funny and should be recognized for his work as Jeremy. Danes is good, too, and it’s nice to see her stepping out into a lead role (I think we can forgive her for Terminator 3, right?). I have enjoyed her work since the days of My So-Called Life.
Overall, Shopgirl is a poignant love story that is worth a look if it ever comes to your neck of the woods (right now, it’s in limited release – another one of the benefits of living in a bigger city!).
This review is also posted on Quarter Life Crisis.
Pub: JH CORRECTIONS:LM