Steve Martin writes and stars in comedy ‘Shop Girl’

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Everyone knows Steve Martin the actor. But many probably do not know him as Steve Martin the writer, who is equally talented, if not more so. His knack for writing screenplays is visible in films such as “The Jerk,” “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid,” and “L.A. Story,” and others in which he also starred.

“Shopgirl,” based on Martin’s own novella, is perhaps the richest, most beautiful screenplay he has written yet, and his most dramatic film role to date.

On the top floor of Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills, Mirabelle (Claire Danes), a meek, quiet salesgirl, stands behind a glove counter to help pay off her student loans and to support herself while pursuing a career as an artist.

Her life takes a drastic turn when she is simultaneously pursued by Ray (Martin), a rich, cultured fifty-something businessman, and Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman), a less refined, poorer, and disturbingly sloppy bachelor.

Mirabelle finds herself falling for Ray, but he is definitely wrong for her. She starts snubbing Jeremy, and he could be the Mr. Right she did not realize she needed.

“Shopgirl” takes all the typical ingredients of a romantic comedy and turns them into a beautiful work of art. The film sparkles with hilariously authentic dialogue and situations so real, they are almost painful to watch.

Martin and Danes have surprisingly great chemistry, and Schwartzman is delightfully hilarious as Jeremy. Their performances help flesh out some of the richest and most intriguing characters in a film in a long time.

Martin, Danes and Schwartzman do not seem like characters at all because they are not perfect and they each have flaws that keep them from being happy. The characters have personality traits that are similar to people have come across at some point in our lives, which makes the film particularly special.

“Shopgirl” has a similar aura to films, such as “Lost In Translation” meets “Annie Hall” mixed with a conventional Hollywood romance.

The film is a touching and poignant film that explores the idea of falling in love without idealizing love so that it appears like a perfect paradise.

Some avid readers may argue that Martin has changed the balance of his original novella by drastically expanding the role of Jeremy. Although the new expansion of the role of Jeremy creates a more conventional love triangle, the new character also adds some welcome comic relief to the film. He is especially funny during a mistaken-identity encounter with Bridgette Wilson-Sampras, who plays Mirabelle’s wicked, gold-digging co-worker Lisa.

Rarely do we see a film that treats the subject of love so seriously and with so much heart. “Shopgirl” does just that by exploring the highs and lows of love, the disappointments, the desperate second chances, the awkward moments, and the passion that quickly turns to heartache.

“Shopgirl” is not a film for everyone. The film is a bittersweet tale that plays with Hollywood conventions, but does not follow them. Hearts are broken, trust is betrayed, and no one really learns their lesson. That’s life and “Shopgirl” portrays it well. The film does overstay its welcome toward the end, but overall, the film is a well-thought out and entertaining adaptation of the novella.

During a time when Hollywood is at its worst creative and financial slump, it is refreshing to see a film like “Shopgirl.” The characters are rich and the dialogue is well written and funny, while the situations still ring surprisingly true. The performances are top-notch and the film is engrossing.

All in all, “Shopgirl” is a boisterously entertaining, invigorating and endearing film. Women are bound to enjoy this more than men, but it is in simplicity and honesty that makes it a wonderfully depressing date movie that needs to be seen.

Sahag Gureghian can be reached at ane@sundial.csun.edu.