Director: Fred Schepisi
Screenplay: Steve Martin
Based on Cyrano de Bergerac by: Edmund Rostand
Starring: Steve Martin, Daryl Hannah, Rick Rossovich, Michael J. Pollard, Fred Willard, Shelley Duvall
Running Time: 107 min
BBFC Certificate: PG
From the first notes of lilting saxophone over the opening credits, Roxanne is a production trapped in a very specific period – that time in the late 1980s and early 1990s when romantic comedies were plentiful, awash in pastel shades and soft focus, and leisurely paced. As Steve Martin wanders to work through picturesque scenery, the film gives every impression that a pleasant, inoffensive, forgettable experience awaits. That isn’t entirely inaccurate, but then the jokes start and it quickly becomes clear that Roxanne distinguishes itself from the many other similar films in one important respect: it is very funny.
Since ditching stand-up comedy for movie stardom with The Jerk in 1979, Steve Martin had a fairly spectacular decade in terms of quality, even if he didn’t repeat the commercial highs of his debut. The likes of Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid and The Man With Two Brains (both of which Martin co-wrote) could be as crude and silly as any of their competitors, but they were also inventive and smart. By 1987 Martin was heading into his 40s and perhaps not feeling as wild and crazy as he used to. Roxanne was the first script for which he received solo credit (albeit adapting Edmund Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac) and it allowed him to shift into a second decade as a romantic lead with his usual class.
The plot follows the outline of Cyrano de Bergerac closely, transposed to a US ski resort: Martin plays Charlie, the local fire chief, a charming, intelligent, popular man held back romantically by his huge nose. When astronomer Roxanne (Daryl Hannah) arrives in town for the summer, Charlie is smitten. Unfortunately, though Roxanne immediately values Charlie’s friendship, she’s more interested in Charlie’s bashful, somewhat lunk-headed but handsome new deputy, Chris (Rick Rossovich). Against his better judgement, Charlie starts advising Chris on how to woo Roxanne, pouring out his own feeling and winning her heart by proxy.
The fun of Roxanne is that Martin the writer does not discriminate when it comes to high or low humour, and Martin the performer has the skills to pull it all off. There are extended sequences of physical comedy, witty quips and pure daft behaviour. The most famous scene comes fairly early when Charlie reacts to an insult in a packed bar by offering 20 more amusing alternatives, but some of it is a little forced. Better are the small moments that show the script was really polished, like the local taxidermy and pelt shop called All Things Dead, or when a frustrated Charlie begs for help from the local plastic surgeon: “I wanna look like Diana Ross.”
Martin is helped considerably by strong support from the likes of Michael J. Pollard and Fred Willard as his incompetent volunteer fire crew. Hannah brings her usual earnest, grinning charm and even gets some good lines of her own (she also gets/is forced to repeat her naked in public routine from Splash). It all turns a bit sentimental in the closing stretch (the saxophone returns) as Martin has to fashion his own, considerably less tragic conclusion, but the laughs do continue and they’re what you’ll remember.
This blu ray is definitely an improvement on the DVD, but the jump isn’t always huge. Some scenes really struggle with detail, while others looks surprisingly good. There are a few moments where you can just about see the join in Martin’s nose prosthetic, which definitely wasn’t the case in standard definition. The sound is consistently fine. The only extra is a suitably dated theatrical trailer.
Review by Jim Whalley.