- Movie Rating -

Roxanne (1987)

| June 19, 1987

It seems to me that there are two kinds of Steve Martin – there’s The Jerk, the cloying goofball who kind of gets on your nerves and then there’s a much more thoughtful Steve Martin, one who is quite charming.  I liked the second one better.  That’s the one that I saw in All of Me and the better parts of The Man With Two Brains.  Now here is Roxanne, a gentle, sweet and very funny movie in which he is all sensitive charm.  He’s gentle and whimsical and he gives the best performance of his career.

Roxanne is a very funny reworking of Edmond Rostand’s “Cyrano de Bergerac” with Martin in the lead.  He is Charlie, the local fire chief who is beloved by everyone in town but lives in fear that no woman will ever love him due to his oversized nose.  And yeah, it’s pretty big – like sparrow’s perch kinda big.  His fears are generally unfounded, obviously the town loves him, but Charlie’s fears are the fears of all of us that our unique physical oddities may draw out jeers and sniggering laughs from those around us.  Are they talking about me?

Charlie heads a fire department with a reputation that isn’t exactly golden.  Called out to retrieve a cat from a tree, the guys end up nearly hanging themselves by their hoses before their chief gets the idea to pop open a can of tuna.  Desperate to get someone who can help, he hires a hunky but slightly dimwitted expert named Chris McConnell (Rick Rossovich) to train them.  His arrival is timed with another: the beautiful Roxanne Kowalski (Daryl Hannah) who is not only stunningly gorgeous but also has an interested in astronomy.  Her pursuit is to find a comet that hasn’t been named yet.  Yet, while she has eyes on the heaven’s, both Charlie and Chris have eyes on her – who wouldn’t?

Both men come to Roxanne with a disadvantage.  Charlie is charming but fears that she will reject him for his looks.  Chris is a good-looking guy but is so socially awkward that he can’t talk to a woman without making a fool of himself.  When he accidentally offends her one night, both Charlie and Chris come to an understanding – Chris will romance her with words fed from Charlie.  He writes letters to her and gives them to Chris to deliver and later radios sweet words of love through earphones while the two are on a date.  Of course, that means that Chris has to wear a silly Elmer Fudd style hat to conceal them.  This leads to one of the funniest moments in the film when the communication is garbled by a passing police car.

Whenever I see a movie that has me laughing as much as Roxanne, there is always a temptation to want to stand back and ask what it is doing right that others have done wrong.  This movie has a wonderfully gentle spirit but it isn’t afraid to go big.  I love the stuff with the romance, with Martin playing a man whose fragile spirit is generally baseless but still wounding., but then there’s the other side, the bigger jokes involving the guys down at the fire house led by Michael J. Pollard who is devoted to the boss and absolutely lives in fear of anyone mentioning, you know . . . that.

I was won over by this movie’s spirit, about it’s off-kilter world, and about it’s tender heart.  Steve Martin showed a lot of his tenderness mixed with his gift for slapstick in All of Me, but here it is fully realized.  He’s playing a character that we like, that makes us laugh and makes us care.  And in the middle of all of that sentimentality, we’re laughing out loud.  Martin has a virtuoso scene in which he challenges a bully who calls him “Big nose” by coming up with 20 “something betters”.  It’s a wonderful scene, and it’s Martin at his best.

But if if were only a Steve Martin vehicle, it wouldn’t have worked as well.  Martin, who adapted the screenplay himself, is generous enough to give time and weight to the other roles so that the film feels packed with characters who are more than just onlookers.  Daryl Hannah has never been better than she is as a sweet girl with a geeky hobby.  Michael Pollard is funny as Charlie’s nervous right hand man.  Fred Willard is funny as the pompous mayor whose opening of Octoberfest is one of my favorite sight gags.  

I loved this movie.  I loved the off-balance way that it presented its little universe.  I love how populated it is.   I loved how much it make me laugh.  I love how much it is making me still laugh.  I loved the way that it remineded me that American comedy is not dead.  It just needs a little effort, a lot of laughs and a good heart.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1987) View IMDB Filed in: Comedy