In recent years Steve Martin has made a career of playing father figures. Usually he has a whole brood of wacky kids who help him scoop up all the money that his family comedies earn at the box office. In Shopgirl—based on the novella of the same name by Martin—he plays a different kind of character—he’s still a father figure but this time he’s dating a woman young enough to be his daughter.
Claire Danes plays the title character, a young woman torn between an older rich man who lavishes his riches, but not his undivided attention on her, and the younger Jason Swartzman who resembles a puppy dog—always happy to see her, but also kind of hyper and annoying.
This is Martin’s first role in some time in which he actually acts. His performance here is a throwback to the days of films like The Spanish Prisoner and Novocaine, when his characters didn’t simply react to the antics of his film family but actually had some substance.
Like Kirsten Dunst’s recent bravura performance in Elizabethtown, Claire Danes breaks through here as a really compelling screen actress. With her willowy good looks and slightly melancholic air she is perfect for the role of the damaged but optimistic Mirabelle.
Shopgirl isn’t a typical romantic comedy. Martin is too smart for that. The story has whimsical elements, but both as a screenwriter and actor Martin brings a quiet melancholy to the movie that speaks volumes about heartbreak and love lost.
If only it had been just a tad shorter and the schmaltzy music a tad bit less overbearing, Shopgirl, could have been one of the best films of the year.