Thursday 8 March 2012

Movie Review: Roxanne (1987)

A mild comedy that combines reasonable sophistication with some rough edges, Roxanne showcases Steve Martin's talent without breaking free of reliance on rather obvious gimmickry.

Based on the play Cyrano de Bergerac, Roxanne tells the story of small town fire chief Charlie "C.D." Bales (Martin), who has a ridiculously long nose, and is hyper sensitive about it. Respected by the community but lonely in his love life, C.D. is smitten by astronomer Roxanne Kowalski (Daryl Hannah), renting a house in town for the summer. But Roxanne only has eyes for hunky and dim firefighter Chris (Rick Rossovich).

Both Roxanne and Chris turn to C.D. as a trusted advisor to help move their romance along, and C.D. takes an active role in wooing Roxanne on behalf of the hapless Chris, feeding him lines of conversation and writing love letters for Chris to sign.

Filmed in scenic Nelson, British Columbia, Roxanne has the undeniable charm that comes with quirky characters dealing with matters of the heart in a small town setting. This is pushed too hard in some cases, with the comic antics of the volunteer firefighters more suitable for a low-brow slapstick comedy. But Roxanne does reach a few comic peaks, most notably when C.D. delights the locals at the town cafe by coming up with 20 original one-line insults about the size of his nose.

Steve Martin delivers a generally confident performance, but still defaults to unnecessary dependence on juvenile physical shenanigans rather than fully trusting the story and characters to deliver genuine warm humour. Daryl Hannah sparkles as Roxanne, the effortlessly attractive outsider who turns the heads of all the locals. Rick Rossovich leaves a trail of dangerous question marks surrounding his performance, as he is unable to convince that Chris' wooden demeanour is due to the character rather than the actor. Shelley Duvall is largely wasted as the local cafe owner.

Director Fred Schepisi matches the laid back and friendly small town vibe with a light touch on the controls. When he is not focusing on the lush rural scenery, Schepisi maximizes the visual impact of Martin's extraordinary beak from various angles, with some of the head-on camera shots cleverly concealing the nose size until just the right moment.

Roxanne sniffs out and inhales a mostly harmless and sometimes pleasing middle ground of romantic comedy aromas. It is rarely breathtaking, but it also never stinks.

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