Dir. Anand Tucker. 2005. R. 106mins. Steve Martin, Claire Danes, Jason Schwartzman, Bridgette Wilson-Sampras.
Martin's best-selling novella, like the Beverly Hills milieu it evokes, is upscale boutique fare—understated, and richer for it. On the page, his tale of a wealthy middle-aged entrepreneur who seduces a much younger salesgirl reads like a high-end roman a clef, buoyed by witty insights into Angelenos and their follies. On the screen, the gossamer quality of the original has coarsened precisely because there's too much of a good thing: Martin as screenwriter, producer, narrator and star overwhelms his material. Also a misstep is the casting of Danes (Terminator 3), an actress whose poise and theatricality get in the way of our accepting her as a blank slate who's clinically depressed.
The film is saved, though, by its strong supporting cast. As Danes's clueless, nerdy suitor, Schwartzman jump-starts the action at all the right moments. When his inchoate desires find shape and direction through motivational audiobooks, his transformation comes across as both funny and genuine. Wilson-Sampras has the juicy role of a gold-digging bimbo schemer; she's oddly sympathetic because, unlike Danes's character, at least she knows what she wants and goes after it at full throttle. Tucker (Hilary and Jackie) again shows an impressive instinct for visuals and production values. He and his crew—led by cinematographer Peter J. Suschitzky and production designer William Arnold—capture L.A. as a state of mind, a dreamworld where true love can be found if you can surf the wretched excess.—Andrea Gronvall