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

Ray is sleazy, per review


Newhouse News Service
October 19, 2005 Wednesday
ENTERTAINMENT
Film review;
A Muted Steve Martin in Story of May-December Romance
By LISA ROSE; Lisa Rose is a staff writer for The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. She can be contacted at lrose(at)starledger.com.

In his recent efforts, Steve Martin has allowed himself to be upstaged by his co-stars.

The children of "Cheaper by the Dozen" earned the biggest laughs, while Queen Latifah and Eugene Levy dominated "Bringing Down the House." The best scenes in "Bowfinger" featured Eddie Murphy in dual roles.

Once a wild and crazy, arrow-accessorized comedian, Martin has mellowed into straight man, ceding the spotlight to younger performers.

Although "Shopgirl" is unlike anything the writer-actor has made of late, it again features him in down-tuned mode. Claire Danes, playing the title sales clerk, owns the film with her intelligent, luminous portrayal. After a series of middling pictures, she finally delivers on the promise of "My So Called Life."

Danes' performance is a grace note in a movie that is otherwise misguided. The adaptation of Martin's bestselling novella lacks the flow and depth of its source material.

Penning the screenplay, Martin had his work cut out for him. With its meditative nature, the book doesn't easily lend itself to Hollywood plotting.

Martin pads the picture with extra narrative, while his voiceover commentary belabors obvious points and creates an air of pretense. Director Anand Tucker ("Hilary and Jackie") coaxes good work from his lead actress but falters in the areas of structure and pacing.

"Shopgirl" is more a sullen mood piece than a laugh-oriented romantic comedy. In his performance, Martin takes a melancholy cue from fellow "Saturday Night Live" alumnus Bill Murray. He's so low-key, his character seems a bit dull, less a lost soul than a one-note depressive.

Ray Porter (Martin) is a wealthy logician who must have hired a shrewd divorce lawyer. He slumps around his sprawling vacation home in the Hollywood Hills and gazes wistfully out private plane windows.

Mirabelle (Danes) also suffers from a mood disorder but at least she tries to channel her gloom into creative endeavors. A struggling artist who makes rent selling gloves at Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills, Mirabelle leads a lonely life of long, dull work days and evenings at home with her reclusive cat.

Before she encounters Ray, she crosses paths with Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman), a slacker with poor social skills and worse grooming habits. During their first night out together, he asks if they can split the cost of movie tickets, and then borrows $2 on top of that.

After one more unspectacular date, Jeremy leaves town, hitting the road as a tech with the band Hot Tears (the lead vocalist is portrayed by cult singer-songwriter Mark Kozelek). This is no great tragedy to Mirabelle, who soon meets Ray. He visits the shop for a pair of gloves and she finds his purchase gift-wrapped on her doorstep with an invitation to dinner.

Ray is the opposite of Jeremy, debonair and worldly, but he is not emotionally available. He tells Mirabelle that he doesn't want a committed relationship and she naively accepts his terms. Meanwhile, on the tour bus, Jeremy starts listening to self-help tapes, his rock 'n' roll road trip turning into, ironically, a journey of personal growth.

Ray is callous and unfaithful to Mirabelle over the course of their romance. Ultimately, he is the tragic character, however. She blossoms while he remains in a rut, incapable of investing enough of himself in a relationship to sustain it over time. The book expresses this idea far more elegantly than the film.

Even if Ray seems destined to die alone, he isn't someone you'll feel sorry for. He's too rich, too aloof and too sleazy to stir much sympathy. Only aging entertainment moguls might identify with his plight.

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