In “Shopgirl,” Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman) is the kooky logo artist with zero social skills who finds himself on the road with a rock and roll band, just because the lead singer likes him for his kookiness. Lying in his bunk on the bus, Jeremy screams along to some rock song streaming through the bus’ stereo system into his headphones. Meanwhile, the lead singer switches the rock and roll cd for yoga.
Jeremy freezes, his eyes wide open and his hands suspended in the air above his prone body. There is a lovely juxtaposition of the calming ocean sounds and mellow voice of the cd and the aghast look of confusion on Schwartzman’s face. Slowly Jeremy follows the directions the mellow voice gives him, first wiggling his toes, then flexing his fingers, still with a terrified expression. This scene is both vivid and efficient in describing Jeremy.
Jeremy is one of two men vying for the romantic attentions of Claire Danes’ character, Mirabelle. The film is mainly about which man the off-kilter heroine is going to choose, the slob, or the snob. The audience is sure to choose a favorite hero, resulting in either disappointment or delight.
There is a definite imbalance in this film where the characters are concerned. The vivacious, loveable side character manages to outshine the two main characters, whose personalities are vague and dull in comparison. Not only does Schwartzman steal the scenes he is in, capturing my attention and sympathy even when his actions are ridiculous and slovenly, he steals the scenes he is not in. When Ray (Steve Martin) and Mirabelle, tedious, internally conflicted characters, are on screen, I wonder about what Jeremy is up to.
I find it very interesting that Martin would write and produce such a story, and cast himself as what is essentially a very tame villain. I wonder about what he thinks about himself in that he would rather see himself as Ray than Jeremy, although, I cannot see him playing Jeremy either.
One other discrepancy that bothered me was that Martin played two parts: the narrator and Ray Porter. His voice is difficult to disguise, and it confused me when he appeared as a tangible character after introducing the story as the narrator. I mistook Ray for an angel trying to put Mirabelle’s life to rights, but realized my mistake when I saw that Ray lived somewhere and ate food. His voice is just too recognizable to let him do both.
At first the suave Ray intrigued me. But as his arrogance and snobbishness increased, I felt my loyalties lay with Jeremy. Likewise, Mirabelle started out as a character I could possibly sympathize with, but the choices she made were materialistic and banal, and I no longer trusted her. Jason Schwartzman, meanwhile, was charismatic and quirky. He tells Mirabelle straight away that he is “an okay guy, by the way,” an unconventional method of winning someone over. Because of his free-spirited style and uninhibited honesty, the audience is left with the feeling that Jeremy has a kind heart, which makes him appealing, and the camera seems to agree.