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.