Sharing Steve :: New Stuff
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
 

Ray a "cold fish" in Shopgirl


The Toronto Sun
October 21, 2005 Friday
FINAL EDITION
ENTERTAINMENT; Pg. E5
CUT-RATE PHILOSOPHY; A JAUNDICED STEVE MARTIN OFFERS SOME OFF-THE-RACK THOUGHTS ON LOVE AND ROMANCE IN SHOPGIRL
JIM SLOTEK, TORONTO SUN

Forgive me, but I wouldn't go to Star Jones for diet tips. Similarly, I suspect Steve Martin is not as good a person to go to for insights on the ways of the heart as he might be on subjects like comic timing and Einstein.

Which isn't to say the pieces aren't sufficent to appreciate in Shopgirl, the movie based on Martin's quasi-autobiographical novella about a rich, emotionally closed older man who can't commit and the naive young woman who suffers for it.

The movie, directed by Anand Tucker, is putatively the story of its title character, a demure, fresh-off-the-turnip-truck wannabe artist named Mirabelle (Claire Danes), spinning her wheels in Los Angeles while working as a salesgirl in the glove department of Saks.

There she is approached in a circumspect fashion by Ray, a fiftysomething older man who is um... what's the word I'm looking for here? Besotted? No, that's not right. Let's say interested and precise in his intentions.

Armed with expensive wines, nice suits and sad, laconic conversation, he sweeps this girl off her feet and into bed, forcing her to forget all about Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman), an adoring puppy boy whose attentions she'd also been fielding. Her relationship with Ray meanders along as Jeremy takes off to be a band's roadie. Ray helps Mirabelle when she stops taking anti-depressants and freaks out, and Ray sleeps around.

This is only putatively Mirabelle's story because the movie is also narrated by Martin, who offers up her thoughts, as well as Ray's on a platter. It's an essential conceit, because it serves to offer up abstract rationalizations for Ray's cold-fishery and sometimes callous disregard for Mirabelle's feelings, and ascribes great emotionalism to him under that immobile mug (at times there's something that could be sadness on Martin's face, but the deadpan that is his moneymaker as a comedian is his Achilles Heel as an actor).

Martin has much in common with Bill Murray on that score, just as Shopgirl is much like Lost In Translation -- minus the appealing quirks and Murray's superior ability to use his deadpan to convey turmoil.

The movie is impeccably shot. Director Anand Tucker shoots with warmth and with a loving eye for the Los Angeles skyline, reminiscent of Martin's L.A. Story.

Meanwhile, such comedy as there is in this rom-com comes mainly from Schwartzman, who is, admittedly, an acquired taste. But things definitely could have been worse (Jimmy Fallon was originally cast as Jeremy). At that, they lose him early and only reintroduce him at what amounts to the romantic payoff.

Even that is rationalized in a jaundiced manner by Mr. Narrator. In Steve Martin's view, nobody is right for anybody -- just less wrong.

BOTTOM LINE

Cold-fishy ambivalence isn't the most compelling theme for a romantic comedy. Lost In Translation got away with it through pure quirk, but this one takes its deep thoughts on love far too seriously.

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