Steve Martin plays Ray Porter, a yuppie millionaire with a heart made of coal in his latest film and certainly his most uncharacteristic. Claire Danes plays Mirabelle, a retailer for Saks and his love interest (he buys a pair of gloves from her just to give them to her as a present in exchange for dinner). Seems like a sound plan. Unfortunately for Martin and maybe Danes too, Jeremy (a classic Jason Schwartzman), a typical starving artist, is also in the running in this odd dating triangle. Picture it now if you can. The wealthy senior citizen with a disposable heart and income wooing the naive retail worker whose sex life is so desperate she’s sleeping with the clueless stencil artist. This scenario is just aching for the kind of humor that is expected of its writer, Martin. Instead what you have is a film that not only takes itself too seriously, but prides itself in thinking it’s making important statements about relationships and the ultimate “greed” of being with someone for superficialities.
Shopgirl feels like a run-of-the-mill course in the standard relationship drama. There is the oh-so-clever photography that not only feels unnecessary but is ultimately distracting. There are characters that are abnormally unique and never resist the consistency of changes that are required as the story progresses. There is writing that attempts to capture the distinctiveness of life with dialogue that is sad and funny but has an unusually tough time finding the balance (considering its writer). Finally, there is a conclusion that is utterly predictable because it is so farfetched and removed from the reality of the situation.
Despite the already cumbersome list of faults, the worst and most off-putting element of Shopgirl would have to be the meager narration by Martin himself. Shopgirl might have the worst narration ever heard in a film. It is never clear whether Martin is actually Porter retelling the story or someone else. The audience never knows where the narration takes place in accordance with the events on film, in effect making the narration even more pointless than it already was. It also doesn’t help that everything revealed and detailed by the narration could have already been assumed from the events unfolding onscreen. We don’t need someone stuffing information down our throats that we’ve already digested some time ago.
However, this is a film with a strong and impressive list of talents. A lot is and should be expected from a cast including Danes, Martin and Schwartzman. Director Anand Tucker (Hilary and Jackie) isn’t exactly a throw-away either. So what happened? It all comes down to the writing. I’m not sure how much got lost in the transition from novella (also penned by Martin) to script, but the result is a fleeting story with very little to say and plenty of time to say it.
Danny Gordon can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.