Can We Forgive Steve Martin?
by Richard Wallace
Shopgirl Spoiler Alert
I don't make a lot of money, but I don't have a lot of bills either, you might say I live beneath my means. I don't eat the crackers shaped like fish; I eat the crackers shaped like squares, although I could easily afford the fish. Not braggin', just sayin'. Since I have always been the kind of person that would rather pay for something outright than get it on credit, I'm not really familiar with large sums of debt. I had a student loan follow me for a while, from a class that did nothing for me, I'll mention, but I eventually paid it off.
I know about working to pay for things that I would rather do, like staring into this box or watching movies I've purchased. But obviously, I know nothing about getting a movie made out of my novel since I don't have a finished novel, much less a successful published one. Novella, they tell me "Shopgirl" is a novella. I suppose it fits, although I've never been fond of that term. It's a book, it's not short enough to be a 'short story'; just call it a novel and be done with it. This will actually get us to the point of my column, keep reading. So Steve Martin writes this novel, and it surprises a lot of people that never expected such a thing from the likes of him, especially with such past literary oddities as "The Cruel Shoes" and "Pure Drivel". (Both are great for different reasons, but also each a far cry from "Shopgirl".) A series of Hollywood events leads to the treat that is "Shopgirl" the movie, but please don't expect anything other than what the box/IMDb tells you. It's a sad, romantic, real-life kind of thing, with some funny parts. I liked it, even viewed on a 7.5 screen while on vacation. It is on my re-view list as well as my book list, although I don't read nearly enough offline these days. I really just want to see how badly the Jeremy character suffered in the transition from book to film. I sensed, and have had confirmed by someone that has seen and read them both that this is a weak part of the film. It's not like I think she and Ray should have been together, but I wasn't entirely convinced that Mirabelle should give two shakes about Jeremy. I'm guessing he was more developed in the book, I'll let you know.
What I'm getting at is, If Martin's expenses are such that we have to endure such tripe as a string of bride's Father movies, cheaper by the six-pack inanities, Bilko, Clouseau, the remakes, geez, the remakes, if that's what has to happen to allow him to make "Shopgirl"; "Bowfinger"; "Novocaine"; then I say yes, we can forgive you, Steve. If we had to miss out on "Mixed Nuts" or "A Simple Twist of Fate" to eradicate all of your movies with 'House' in the title, then let's just not travel in time to do that.
BUT: All of that is entirely wrong. We live in a society where we are not forced to view things that suck. Therefore, there is no forgiveness necessary, whatever you gotta do to make a buck is fine; it's not like they fooled me into seeing "Bringin' Down the Hizzie" or whatever it was called. One just has to adjust their thinking when deciding whether a film is worthwhile viewing. Just because you're a Steve Martin fan doesn't mean you're going to enjoy everything he's been involved with; he's like Robin Williams now. No harm, no foul; no forgiveness necessary. I even kind of liked "The Pink Panther", although I did see it with juveniles.
Sorry, sidetracked. The title question turns on a dime during the second week of theaters playing "Norbit": Can we forgive Eddie Murphy? It's been a long time since Gumby, Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood, and Buckwheat's assassination, a very, long, time. Having gone from teenaged stand-up to SNL cast member to movie star in the space of just a couple of years, Eddie released the now rare concert film "Delirious", became a superstar with "Beverley Hills Cop", and then it got interesting, to say the least. With "Coming to America" he apparently became hopelessly enchanted with the idea of wearing prosthetics and playing multiple roles, further evidenced with the underrated, under-appreciated "Vampire in Brooklyn", and firmly established with the 'Nutty' films.
Before all the costumes, before the 'Dolittles', came the concert film "Raw". In this one, Eddie wore an even gayer leather jumpsuit than the one from "Delirious" and spewed misogyny rather than homophobia, not that there is really anything wrong with bashing women or homosexuals for fun and profit; if that's your thing. In the one truly funny section of the film, Murphy relates a series of phone calls with Bill Cosby and Richard Pryor. Apparently, Cosby put on his 'Veteran Show Biz Black Man Nurturer' hat and called Murphy to complain about his use of curse words and adult subject matter. Murphy relates subsequently asking the advice of Pryor, who advised him to "Tell Bill I said to have a Coke and a smile and STFU!" (This was a comment on the fact that, at that time in history, Cosby was not a professional entertainer; he was the soulless shill for Kodak, Coke, Jello, etc.) I bring this up because in the twenty years since "Raw": Murphy has become Cosby.
I don't know if that deserves the irony tag, since it took two decades, but I am certain of one thing, we really shouldn't forgive Eddie Murphy for turning into the poster boy for inane family fare box office. Is this some sort of racist thing, I hear nobody asking, that Martin doesn't even need forgiving yet Murphy both needs it and doesn't deserve it? Stop being stupid, voice in my head; of course not. Was it arbitrarily decided simply because his bad movies are so much worse than Martin's? Yes, yes it was. And maybe a little leftover resentment because of having paid to see "Best Defense". I'll defend my position thiswise: Go sit through a pair of Dr. Dolittles and a pair of Cheaper Dozen movies and you tell me.
Any nominations of your own forgiveness-free former faves gone bad?