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Friday Film Review: Roxanne

Roxanne (1987)
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Grade: B

When I reviewed “Cyrano de Bergerac,” some of you said you couldn’t watch or didn’t want to watch it or hated it because of the tragic ending. I can understand that. More often I’m in the mood for a HEA too. So here one is in the form of an updated version of Edmond Rostand’s famous story. And this time, the right guy gets the girl.

Fire department chief C.D. “Charlie” Bales (Steve Martin) is a great guy. He’s charming, witty, friendly, kind, intelligent and caring. He’s also got an incredibly huge nose. When he meets summer resident and astronomy student Roxanne (Daryl Hannah) he’s smitten but she’s only got eyes for new handsome fire fighter Chris (Rick Rossovich). Chris is also hopeless when it comes to interacting with women and frustrates Roxanne by refusing to talk to her. So she asks C.D. to help them, not knowing of his feelings for her. Will C.D. ever work up enough courage to tell Roxanne what he feels even as he vicariously woos her for his friend?

If you know anything about the original story, you’ll notice how cleverly this remake/update works those details into the plot. C.D. is great with words as shown in the “20 insults” scene at the bar when he chastises someone who insults his nose then goes on to spontaneously come up with 20 much more clever things the man could have said. They aren’t delivered as a poem but still show C.D.’s superior intellect. Roxanne is an astronomer which was a hobby of the original Cyrano. C.D. shows his fencing skill not with a sword but a tennis racket – the scene is hilarious. Instead of whispering the words to Chris to woo Roxanne with, C.D. initially uses a short wave radio with a transmitter hidden under a cap Chris wears then finally resorts to charades and pantomimes.

There are several people in town who act the part of C.D.’s friends as well as the other fire fighters who stand in for the Gascogne cadets. There’s a funny scene of C.D. falling out of a tree as he spies on Roxanne only to almost land on top of four older ladies. He spins a story about having almost been abducted by aliens which resembles the “man falling from the moon” tale told by Cyrano to the jealous Comte – which is one subplot that is otherwise dropped in this version of the story. But never fear, if you haven’t read the play or seen other Cyrano movies, you won’t feel like you’re missing things or are being left out of the inside jokes.

As with any telling of the Cyrano story, the main emphasis is on the man himself and thus this is really Steve Martin’s movie. He does great physical as well as verbal comedy. I don’t think he did all the gymnastic entries into Roxanne’s rental house but he does fence with the tennis racket, act out the aliens, and leads his volunteer fire fighters in proper hose technique then waltzes to their efforts – you have to see that part to appreciate it. Martin tones down his wackiness – often it’s the other characters who take this up – and instead gives a charming, sensitive performance.

Daryl Hannah is lovely as Roxanne is supposed to be but also pulls off the job of being as intelligent as this character is portrayed. She’s still dazzled by a pretty face but now gets a scene of anger at the realization of the scam pulled on her and finally – for this character – sees beyond the physical to the true worth of the man who has loved her from afar. As for the pretty face, Rossovich is more than cute as the tongue tied, airhead Chris and I ended up still liking him despite the shallowness – he had to be gotten out of the way – of his character here.

Shelley Duvall, Fred Willard, an early Damon Wayans, and – my favorite – Michael J. Pollard are some of the secondary actors who all do good jobs. Oh, and there’s Flossie the cow and Grover the cat who is the one responsible for Roxanne and C.D. meeting in the first place.

Lots of historical stories which are updated and presented as contemporaries fail to work for me. Many of the plot details just don’t fit in the modern world or the work arounds are so cumbersome that it makes the whole thing to clunky and unbelievable. Here I think the filmmakers have done a great job of keeping the basics, updating some of the details and jettisoning what would have ground the story to a halt. And even though the film is almost 25 years old, it doesn’t feel 80s dated either. Wooh – twofer! For those who don’t like Cyrano due to the unhappy ending – here ya go. B

~Jayne

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

17 Comments

  1. DS
    Aug 26, 2011 @ 06:52:39

    Good review. Love this movie.

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  2. Sarah Frantz
    Aug 26, 2011 @ 07:35:52

    And now I have that damn SONG stuck in my head for the rest of the day. Thanks.

    But I should check out this movie. I never got to it, I don’t think. Adding to Netflix.

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  3. Susanna Kearsley
    Aug 26, 2011 @ 08:19:58

    This is another of my favourite films to put on when I’m having a bad day, because it always makes me feel good.

    This was also the movie that made me want to move to Nelson, B.C. (where it was filmed), and buy a fish steamer.

    Love the score, too.

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  4. MarieC
    Aug 26, 2011 @ 09:15:04

    great review! this is one of my favorite films. I love the scene when Charlie follows his nose to the fire.

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  5. Darlene Marshall
    Aug 26, 2011 @ 09:17:39

    Goodness, I haven’t thought of this since I saw it in the theater (and lusted after S. Martin’s fish poacher). I had seen the Jose Ferrar movie many times (Love it!) and caught many of the tropes. I’ve never seen the play in its entirety, just individual scenes.

    Which reminds me…

    There was a TV production with Christopher Walken and Susan Sarandon called “Who am I This Time?” (1982) that I adore. ISTR they did a scene from Cyrano, which played up the story of the shy amateur actor not being able to speak up and get the girl.

    I need to hunt that one down.

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  6. Katherine
    Aug 26, 2011 @ 09:37:31

    I remember watching this movie in the theater! I loved it, sighing over the romance, cursing Roxanne for not seeing that it was Steve Martin’s character she really loved. Plus it was Steve Martin!

    Thanks for reminding me of this one.

    Jayne – have you watched or reviewed LA Story? It is from the same era, also stars Steve Martin and has some sweet and hilarious moments.

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  7. Jayne
    Aug 26, 2011 @ 09:40:20

    @Sarah Frantz: LOL, sorry, forgot about the damn song. Now you’ve got me thinking about it too! Am trying to replace it in my brain with The Blue Danube Waltz which is what the firefighters practice to.

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  8. Karenmc
    Aug 26, 2011 @ 09:41:55

    Love this movie. It’s smart and the characters are all generous with their friendship, never belittling anyone (except that guy with the nose jokes).

    And I’ve been known to mimic Charlie’s impression of the ÔÇťaliens” when the moment calls for something like that.

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  9. Kaye
    Aug 26, 2011 @ 09:52:34

    Great choice and review! I really enjoyed this adaptation, and the insult scene is my favorite scene in the play and movie.

    I wish that Steve Martin would write more movies like this one and “LA Story.” I found “Shopgirl” absolutely painful to watch.

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  10. Amy Kathryn
    Aug 26, 2011 @ 09:59:16

    I loved this movie. I also really enjoyed the remakes of Father of the Bride that Steve Martin did. I was not a fan of the Cheaper by the Dozen remakes, though.

    So many of the original films were so good that it is hard to win me over with the remake. The best are the ones, like you mentioned, manage to have a wonderful modern twist that goes with the story.

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  11. Jayne
    Aug 26, 2011 @ 10:07:41

    @Kaye: Martin’s films either work well for me or they bomb. “LA Story” is one I’ve just caught bits of on TV broadcasts.

    @Amy Kathryn: I enjoyed the “Father of the Bride” remakes but clips of the Pink Panther ones just made me cringe.

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  12. Theresa Romain
    Aug 26, 2011 @ 10:10:33

    Thanks for the review, Jayne–it’s been a long time since I thought of this movie, and this reminds me how fun it is. The “twenty insults” scene is a wonderful update from the play/movie.

    Though the Rostand play is so amazingly witty, as a romance lover, I do wish for a HEA. The ending of Roxanne is great for that reason. (Though the Jose Ferrer version…his voice…*shiver*)

    ReplyReply

  13. hapax
    Aug 26, 2011 @ 10:29:10

    Love this movie too, but I disagree with you about Daryl Hannah. I think the movie dies of asphyxiation every time she appears on screen.

    (Personally, I would much rather have seen Charlie end up with his snarky waitress friend)

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  14. RowanS
    Aug 26, 2011 @ 10:30:25

    @Darlene Marshall: Oh, if you find that one on DVD, let us know. That little movie is absolutely brilliant, besides showcasing very, very young Christopher Walken and Susan Sarandon. I don’t know why it never got much love…

    ReplyReply

  15. jody
    Aug 26, 2011 @ 10:30:35

    @Darlene Marshall: Who Am I This Time is available for streaming on Netflix. It’s wonderful. And only an hour. AND based on a Kurt Vonnegut story.

    ReplyReply

  16. Darlene Marshall
    Aug 26, 2011 @ 10:50:11

    Thanks, Jody! I’ll look for it.

    ReplyReply

  17. Sandra
    Aug 26, 2011 @ 13:12:54

    @Katherine: Plus it was Steve Martin!

    I really like Martin in his less manic roles. He’s much like Robin Williams, in that they’re both great improv comedians; great at over the top comedy roles; but can also do a fabulous job in more “serious” dramatic roles. There are not a lot of actors who have that sort of range.

    My personal favorite is “Leap of Faith”. Martin in a serious role, Meatloaf leading the choir, and Liam Neeson in a towel .

    ReplyReply

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