Sharing Steve :: New Stuff
Saturday, October 22, 2005

NY Daily News review

Daily News (New York)
October 21, 2005 Friday
NOW; Pg. 50

SHOPGIRL. With Steve Martin, Claire Danes, Jason Schwartzman. Director: Anand Tucker (1:44). R: Sexual content, language. 2 Stars.

Readers of Steve Martin's two books, "Pure Drivel" and "Shopgirl," have come to know two sides of the author - or, at least, know that there are two sides to his creative range.

"Pure Drivel," his collection of humor pieces for The New Yorker, is pure Martin, a gifted farceur whose prose writing is a kind of slapstick variant on Kurt Vonnegut. He is hugely funny, and the book - while living up to its title - is a breezy, laugh-out-loud read.

With "Shopgirl," on the other hand, he attempts to plumb genuine human emotion and motivation. It's a story about a glove sales clerk in a Beverly Hills department store, a woman whose woeful love life is suddenly flush with the attentions of a geeky lad her age and a dapper, wealthy old guy who would like to try her on for size.

While the novella has its fans, I found it tedious, boring, undeveloped, lazy and lightweight, and I seriously doubt that it would have been published without Martin's celebrity to inspire the publisher's marketing department.

The movie version of "Shopgirl," adapted by Martin and directed by Anand Tucker ("Hilary and Jackie"), is a few grams heavier, if only because of Claire Danes' wonderful, three-dimensional performance as the book's objectified title character, Mirabelle Butterfield.

Danes' smart, fun, radiant and very attractive Mirabelle actually undermines the premise of the book, which has been taken by people who have a better grasp on celebrity gossip than I have to be a self-scolding by Martin for an emotionally reckless romance with a young - and, I'm guessing, starstruck - lover.

Like most wealthy middle-aged men whose faces are as familiar as the four on Mount Rushmore, Martin can surely attract as many young, smart, beautiful women as he has time for.

But Ray Porter, his character in the film, is merely rich and attentive. For us to accept Mirabelle's quick and fully committed love for him, he needs to show her - and us - more than the money.

He does not. Martin is so flat and uninteresting in the role, you have to imagine charms that aren't apparent. There is no chemistry between the characters, because Martin brought no chemistry to the set.

He can act and write up a storm in comedy, but, on the evidence, he can neither write nor perform drama.

In the novella, Martin doesn't bother with dialogue or developed scenes - he simply tells readers what the characters are thinking, which makes them all literary stick figures.

The movie has to dramatize the events and fill out the figures, and it's a sign of how difficult all that was for Martin that he felt compelled to include patches of his prose as voice-over narration.

To say it's a distraction to hear Martin's voice telling us in the third person what his fictional character is thinking is to ignore the better word, weird.

Another problem not overcome by the script is the weakness of the third side of the romantic triangle, Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman), a slovenly electronics-store clerk whose big dream is to sell custom amplifiers to rock bands.

The role is expanded, at least in terms of his appearances, and while Schwartzman doesn't make him a legitimate option for Claire, he provides the film's only comic relief.


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