Roxanne

RoxanneSynopsis: Comic genius Steve Martin delivers an incredible performance as an engaging small town fire chief who has only one tiny flaw – no, make that one HUGE flaw – his astonishingly long nose. Although he considers it no laughing matter, the hilarity never stops as C.D. Bales (Martin) contends with jerky nose jokes, a bumbling crew of firemen, and his secret love for gorgeous astronomy student Roxanne (Daryl Hannah). Unfortunately, she is attracted to fireman Chris (Rick Rossovich), who’s tall on looks and short on conversation. And when C.D. agrees to coach the dumbstruck Chris in his pursuit of the fair maiden, this ticklish triangle dissolves into a hilarious series of rib-tickling romantic misadventures.

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Roxanne 8.0

eyelights: Steve Martin. the well-managed adaptation of the original play.
eyesores: the dated score.

“It’s not the size of the nose that matters, it’s what’s inside that counts!”

I saw ‘Roxanne’ well before I even knew of the existence of Cyrano de Bergerac. I wasn’t a fan of Steve Martin, either; I knew of his existence (at the time who wouldn’t?), but hadn’t seen any of his movies yet.

I suspect that the only reason that I saw ‘Roxanne’ was because my mom dragged me out to the cinema. Let’s face it: it likely wouldn’t have been my first choice, being a teenage boy.

But I loved it, and ended up seeing it a few times over the years; it remained a pleaser every single time.

This time around, though, I was surprised by how far removed from the original this adaptation is. If anything, one would have to say that ‘Roxanne’ is inspired by Cyrano de Bergerac – it’s most certainly not merely a modernized version of the play.

For starters, the setting is a small American town, whereas the original was in Paris, one of the largest cities in the world. Perhaps Martin, who wrote the screenplay and won a Writers Guild of America award for it, figured it best to limit production costs? Who knows.

Or maybe he thought that it would be a more perfect setting for his character’s (named C.D. Bale here) volunteer firefighters. After all, what are the odds of Keystone Cops-like firefighters surviving in a big city like New York or Los Angeles? They likely couldn’t and wouldn’t.

Making firefighters out of them was an inspired choice. Instead of literally transferring the characters to the military, he gave them a certain authority without putting them in danger – something that would have tainted a romantic comedy such as this.

Plus which he allowed for a lot more humour to flow through. I’ll always remember seeing the firefighter floating on a jet of water in the background, as C.D. is writing. it’s the first thing I can think of when I think of this movie. Well, that and the suction cup alien he emulates at one point.

Another likely reason why Martin likely relocated the story to a small town is because he turned Roxanne into an astronomer who has come to the town to research a new comet. This wold have been basically impossible in the big city, with all its lights blotting out the sky.

As he did this, he made Roxanne more book smart, independent, less precious. And yet… she falls for a complete dimwit anyway – a sucker for a pretty boy, despite his moronic repartée and lack of wit. If she were so smart, how could she not  see just how unworthy he was?

(Hmmm… I suppose that this is a common grievance in male-female relations, isn’t it?)

I also have to question the notion that she also falls for C.D.’s words. Are modern women likely to swoon for syrupy prose? Really? Maybe she was intellectual but not cynical, unlike myself. As for me, whenever I hear Martin recite some of his fluff it makes me want to gag.

“I am in orbit around you, I am suspended weightless over you like the blue man in the Chagall, hanging over you in a delirious kiss.”

*ack*

Hey, I appreciate the sentiment. But I usually tune out the words and simply imagine that he’s said something particularly sweet and clever. That way, I get to keep my lunch.

Martin plays a sophisticated take on his usual schtick, with a romantic bent and a tenderness that not all of his characters affect. This would later prove useful in such films as ‘Father of the Bride’ and “Parenthood’, but until this point he mostly stuck to a cornier or crazier style.

He’s quite good here, floating between congenial and witty and starstruck and daydreamy quite effortlessly. For some reason, the whole time I imagined Tom Hanks doing equally well in this part, if not better. At least the Tom Hanks of that era – not today’s bloated “thespian”.

Maybe it’s the “Splash” connection, what with Daryl Hannah being in both?

Or was the script written generically? Was it just a product of its time and that’s why it could have worked with many actors? Either way, it really does feel like an ’80s film: the saxophone-laden music, in particular, continuously reminds us that this is firmly entrenched in an era. Ick.

Still, ‘Roxanne’ transcends this “time constraint”. Sure, Daryl Hannah isn’t convincing as an astronomer, and Rick Rossovich plays a particularly vacant Chris, but the picture has heart and charm to go around. Plus which it brings a few different levels of humour to the table in the process.

Frankly, I’m not surprised that it won accolades and that Steve Martin’s reputation as an “everyman” was solidified  here: he used a classic hero and made him accessible, grounding away him from a pomposity than might not otherwise connect with the average person.

In so doing, he fashioned a film that is far better than one might imagine at first glance. Sure, it may be an ’80s romantic comedy, but it has a certain “je ne sais quoi” that makes it stand out and actually aged relatively well. It may not be ‘Cyrano de Bergerac‘, exactly, but one could say that it is a nose ahead of the rest.

Date of viewing: April 25, 2013

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