Young women boinking older men - It's not always for the money. Women want a man who can take care of them. Many women won't admit such things, especially to men. But some talkative woman shared many of our secrets with unassuming comic, Steve Martin. (We also want men to make us laugh.) But instead of exploiting us, Martin told on himself.
Much like fellow funny-man of the 70s, Bill Murray, Steve Martin has improved with age. The quiet shedding Martin and Murray have exhibited in films like Lost In Translation and Shopgirl left audiences relating to their characters very intimately. These boys have indeed come a long way from their coked up days on Saturday Night Live.
Shopgirl started as Steve Martin's novella in which he poignantly tells on himself for using, loving and losing a young, awkward girl found selling gloves behind a counter at Saks Fifth Avenue. I loved this book and exclaimed to several people in my recommendation, "I can't believe a man wrote this!" Not because men writers don't tell beautiful truths, but because Martin has such a rich understanding of his female lead that it made me want to cry to him about my period over a shared slice of cheesecake. Thankfully, Martin adapted the book to screenplay so its honesty shines through without the usual sickeningly sweet frosting dollop of Hollywood. It's always a thrill to see what the REAL writer does in an adaptation to film with his own story at stake. Shopgirl will not disappoint you.
The film's beginning is very Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory-esque. Instead of the preparation of savory candies and chocolates, we see lovely high-end accessories laid out at Saks. The whole film has a sterile sensation to it. It's all very polite and well-planned until characters we don't like at first (though later love) color it with their well-intentioned messes. A friend of mine once said, "Femininity is color in a gray world." It's obvious from this delicate confession that Steve Martin's world was colored in with a woman. In his book there is a gorgeous paragraph about Martin's character falling asleep as he imagines his shopgirl atop him, her yellow dress flowing all around, delivering the peace for which he starves. I thought of this paragraph before the film and was thrilled to find the script thick with languid refrigerator-magnet-poetry visuals. The stakes are always higher in films, but this already perfect tale burst to life with color, music and doe-eyed heroin from Wisconsin, in such a small, building insistence that I began to let go of what I knew from the novella and see a newborn story.
Ray Porter meets Mirabelle. He courts her instantly and very unconventionally. He is rich. She is without an identity, simply maintaining her velvet-rut day job. Steve Martin plays himself in Shopgirl had he been simply rich without the famous part. Claire Daines finally gets to win us over again in a role that suits her for a change. Mirabelle is alone without seeming lonely. Sometimes she does charcoal sketches. She tells Ray these artistic endeavors occur about every six months and he asks why so rarely. She has no answer. Mirabelle hasn't much of anything.
Before Ray Porter, however, Mirabelle had Jeremy, played by Jason Schwartzman. Poor Jason hasn't had opportunity to shine like this since his break-out role in Rushmore. Their first date is a flop but Mirabelle is so desperate to feel anything that she takes Jeremy to bed despite his persistence to boink her, not with a condom, but rather a plastic bag. One of the film's highlights is the sex scene where Mirabelle's illusive cat appears and causes Jeremy to exclaim, "Someone's hitting my balls!"
Mirabelle unintentionally inspires Jeremy to pursue bigger things and he drops out while Ray Porter steps in. On their second date, Porter admires Mirabelle's crummy watch and removes it, wrapping his thumb and index finger around her wrist to tenderly announce, "Now I'm your watch."
Reading his book you can almost pick up on which details are non-fiction, but in this scene it's very clear that this is the regurgitation of an exchange Martin had with someone he loved. The book is an easy read, but the film is like a striptease. I left the theatre feeling I'd just seen Steve Martin naked. I didn't even know how much I loved this movie until days later when I'd rehashed my own Shopgirl nostalgia remembering my favorite moments in the film, from man-turned-watch to Mirabelle's precious naked offering. This film is true love without truth.
Everybody has played a Mirabelle or Ray Porter in their life. Porters take compassion, affection and comfort from the Mirabelles. Mirabelles live simply to love and be loved. Porters put up walls and dig moats around their hearts so they won't miss the Mirabelles when their freshness runs out and Mirabelle is discarded. But it is impossible to not miss a lovable Mirabelle, no matter how strong your guard. No matter how mismatched, if you let love in, despite how lopsided you and that person are, you will suffer when love walks out. Everyone who sees this film will relate to one, or if you've been around enough, both of these characters. My heart ached for each of them as they stumble along their Los Angeles paths, hurting each other but getting better at their own truths. The end will leave you very satisfied. And wishing you had Steve Martin's phone number for those nights when you can't make sense of it all. It takes a lot of courage to tell on yourself as Martin does in this skinless story. He's matured quite a bit from that wild and crazy guy, and if I ever bump into him on the street, I'll thank him like member of the same support group for sharing such a difficult story.
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