Twenty nine years ago, Steve Martin burst upon the scene as a wild and crazy guest on "Saturday Night Live." Underneath this "wild and crazy" persona was a college graduate with a degree in philosophy and curious intellect. Martin's first box office bomb in 1981 was a noble failure, a film noir movie musical titled "Pennies from Heaven," co starring Benedette Peters and Christopher Walken. While he can always rely on his comedies like "Roxanne," "Parenthood" and "Cheaper by the Dozen" for a steady paycheck, Martin is a renaissance man who constantly seeks to reinvent himself. As the author of his novela, "Shopgirl," Steve Martin created a thoughtful reflection about modern day romance.
Mirabelle Butterworth (Danes) is a shopgirl who sells things that people no longer buy anymore. She lives a humdrum life of waking, working and preparing for bed. Occasionally she expresses herself artistically through her drawings of self imagery. After a trip to the laundry mat, Mirabelle meets Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman), a career roadie with no social skills. While this is an initial attraction, Mirabelle and Jeremy date each other out of boredom.
Wealthy man about town Ray Porter (Martin) enters Mirabelle's shop one day and purchases some gloves. The two strike up a conversation and Porter invites her to dinner. Despite their 35 year age difference, Mirabelle and Ray hit it off and the romance blossoms. In the meantime, Jeremy goes on the road and discovers self help audio books.
"Shopgirl" is a love triangle without conflict. For an "R" rated movie, the film avoids expletive derivatives and forced violence. Yet the pain and humor are real elements that grow out of each character's behavioral contradictions. Without forcing it, "Shopgirl" offers genuine tears and laughs.
Claire Danes owns "Shopgirl" from beginning to end. She masters Mirabelle's apathy, growth and self acceptance with an honesty seldom seen in motion pictures these days. Jason Schwartzman is given the opportunity to portray broad comedy. Schwartzman somehow makes Jeremy's self absorption both funny and endearing. Elizabeth Wilson-Sampras, the wife of tennis player Pete Sampras, is involved in one of the broadest and funniest scenes in "Shopgirl." Wilson-Sampras pulls off the delicate balance between arrogance and humility.
Earlier this year, Bill Murray was given Oscar buzz for his laid back performance in the overrated "Broken flowers." Now there is Oscar promotion for Martin's mature performance. While "Shopgirl" is not Martin's best performance ever, Martin deserves kudos for adapting his book into a better screenplay. Thus far, "Shopgirl" is one of the best films featured at the "Fort Lauderdale Film Festival." For the first time in a long time this year, "Shopgirl" is a motion picture that made me reflect on life, love and romance in a positive way.