A completely different Steve Martin showed up for his 2000 debut novel, Shopgirl, a slender but serious effort that, while not quite Jane Austen, certainly eschewed the comedian's wilder-and-crazier instincts. Here is a sober-minded writer, it said. Now comes the inevitable movie version, which, in turn, says, Here is a sober-minded screenwriter and believable, wintry costar of a May-December romance stoked with urban ennui. If only Bill Murray hadn't beaten him to it...
Shopgirl will remind you of Lost in Translation, though in many ways it's the more honest film. Instead of Tokyo's romantic oasis of anonymity, we get Martin's economically disparate Los Angeles, a place of gated, richly decorated homes (Martin's character is a dot-com millionaire) and grubby one-bedroom apartments (Claire Danes's lonely Mirabelle works as a counter clerk at Saks). Moreover, while Sofia Coppola clearly had the hots for her odd couple, director Anand Tucker honors Martin's chilliness on the page with moments of uncomfortable estrangement and even caddishness.
Still, the very elements that make Shopgirl slightly more lifelike also make it that much less engaging; the relationship is strained by Martin's inability to commit, and ironically, viewers may themselves be unable to commit to Danes's girlish navet or Martin's mostly dull underplaying. More problematically, a buffoonish minor character in the book (a roadie played here by Jason Schwartzman) has been pumped up into a distracting romantic competitor. Martin's earned the right to be serious; he shouldn't have second-guessed himself. (Opens Fri)—Joshua Rothkopf