When you think of a book written by a comedian, you probably think of something like Tina Fey’s Bossypants or Chelsea Handler’s Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea. But Shopgirl by Steve Martin is not anything like either of those. At all.
Shopgirl is a compelling and provocative love story (a couple of love stories, actually), mixed in with some coming-of-age, and some depression issues, and some good old-fashioned naughtiness.
But what makes the book great is not just what it’s about, but how it is written. I don’t know why, and Steve Martin would probably be offended to hear this, but it was not what I was expecting. And by that I mean that it was good. Really good. And thoughtful, and profound, and very well-written. Not that all actors are shallow or all comedians inept, but Steve Martin is an excellent, excellent writer. Which you probably wouldn’t automatically assume (you know; I doubt anyone watches The Jerk and thinks “I bet that guy is an exceptional writer”).
Some of the richest and most complex elements of the book come in its characters. I could picture each of them perfectly, felt like I knew them. Which made the movie…interesting. It is usually strange, sometimes disappointing, but always fun to see characters you have known and loved in a book come to life on the screen.
Steve Martin plays the lead, and plays it well. Plays it as perhaps only the character’s writer and creator could play it. Claire Danes plays the shopgirl, and though I have not really loved her in much else (have you seen her cry?), this was for me an exceptional portrayal of a complicated and challenging role. Her take is not quite as pretty, not quite as damaged, a little bit more innocent than the girl I read in the book. But she does it well. Jason Schwartzman is a WEIRD Jeremy. Not what I pictured at all. It worked, but this character for me was the least like the book.
I love the “shopgirl” concept. There is a voyeuristic quality to the very idea. Like they somehow hold themselves out, in a way. Invite you to look at them much like the merchandise they display.
I like that you get to see the person behind the display. In this book/movie. Steve Martin almost flirts with cliche here (girl from the Midwest, searching for her dreams, an artist inside). But it’s not. Cliche. It is unique and perfect.
Powerful and moving, both the film and the book. Work it!