Shop(girl) around for a better buy

Yesterday I took in the film, Shopgirl. This film was based on Steve Martin’s novella of the same name. While people may only think of Steve Martin as the comic actor from SNL and movies like the Jerk, and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, he is also a very talented, intelligent writer. Therein lies the first problem with this movie. Steve Martin the writer created a story, and a character (Ray Porter) that was cold, and calculating in his treatment of a younger woman, Mirabelle Buttersfield (played by Claire Danes). Steve Martin the actor did not fit the role he cast himself into. Most people are comparing his performance to Bill Murray’s in Lost in Translation, pointing out where Martin falls short and I totally agree. Steve Martin just made the character seem to care too much.

People who go to movies now see Steve Martin and think Bringin' Down the House. The natural preconceived stereotypes of Steve Martin as the funny guy make it impossible to view him as the cold, unfeeling character Ray Porter really is. While he did himself a service by writing the screenplay (and sticking to the original ideas that make the relationship between Mirabelle, Ray and Jeremy - Jason Schwartzman), he did himself a big disservice by forcing himself into the staring role. The awkwardness between Mirabelle and Ray lasts too long. I never once believed that they could actually co-exist in their pseudo relationship and I found the relationship between the two left the movie flat. I know Claire's character was supposed to be played as such (as a result of the depression etc.), but without the extra situations the reader sees in the book you can't see how this relationship occurs, or why it lasted.

The saving grace of the film is Schwartzman. He adds the much needed comic relief with his interpretation of Jeremy, and struggling artist who is completely lost in life and in love. The movie slows at times with shots that seem to run on too long, but the scenes with Jeremy (with Mirabelle, or on the road with the band) are the perfect mix of awkwardness and honesty needed for real humor, and fit perfectly with the character in the novella.

The band that Jeremy travels with is none other than Mark Kozelek’s newest band, and one of my personal favorites, Sun Kil Moon. Mark steals a few scenes as lead singer of the Hot Tears. He helps Jeremy find himself throughout the film, acting as a personal spiritual mentor. After Garden State, I thought no one could outdo Zach in showing his indie creds, after telling music fans everywhere that the Shins could change your life. Since this film, it seems that the music you put into a movie is almost more important than the movie itself. Films like Wicker Park and In Good Company featured indie bands like Postal Service, and Iron and Wine. Did these artists fit the movie, probably not, but hearing great music in a trailer, or having a top rated soundtrack definitely gets people talking about a film. Enter Shopgirl. Not only does the movie feature a fantastic Sun Kil Moon track, Carry Me Ohio, but the band actually plays live. It was like seeing the Flaming Lips play the Peach Pit after Dark. I guess if bands like the Donnas, Letters to Cleo and Save Ferris can play proms, I can’t begrudge Mark for signing on to play an indie rock band.

Overall, this film had some great moments, and some bad ones. The soundtrack is solid, and Jay Schwartz is very funny. If you can block out Steve martin, and his huge jowls, you will enjoy this film, but I’d still just suggest reading the book.

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