Here is a phrase I never imagined I would say: I saw the new Steve Martin movie last night. I don’t dislike Steve Martin--I have respect for him as a writer and comedian—but I’ve never really been into the sort of family-friendly, trite comedies he seems to make. I went to “Shopgirl” prepared to be disappointed. Perhaps that contributed to my pleasant surprise, but in any case, I enjoyed this film.
Enjoyment is a subjective thing. When I say I enjoyed it, I don’t necessarily mean it was a romantic romp through a May-December romance and what follows. What I enjoyed, in a squirmy, uncomfortable sort of way, was the fact that Martin took a complicated (and partially true) situation and rendered it like a fairy tale. It was simple and sweet, in the brief sense, but underneath the shorthand there lies a complex knot of emotions and relationships. I especially liked the treatment of Mirabelle’s depression, which was not discussed at any length but described in visual cues and a wonderful sequence where the bustle and hum of Saks 5th Ave becomes too much. I haven’t seen depression depicted in quite this way, with a quiet subjectivity and cues that I immediately understood, and it was refreshing.
I don’t know how disturbing this film was intended to be. Audiences will differ in their opinions on the basic facts of Mirabelle and Ray Porter’s (Martin) relationship, the casual sex, the conventional portrayal of a woman who is basically useless without a man. But this film is not seeking to biograph Mirabelle’s whole life; merely to show us, through her relationships, why this girl is worth notice. As the twisted web of influence spools out (Martin wrote the book, cast himself in a somewhat unsavory role, and hired the real-life girl in question to do the artwork used in the film) I come to the conclusion that it takes guts to tell a story like this, to put yourself on the line in the way Martin has, and I respect him for it. And I like the movie, too.