A Slight Look at the Enormous Fun of Roxanne (1987)

I adore romantic comedies. Aside from musicals, I think it's my favorite genre. That being said, I don't fall in love with them as easily as the protagonists do with each other. If a romantic comedy is going to win me over, it has to actually embody romance and comedy -- it needs to have genuine heart, laugh-out-loud hilarity, and extraordinary chemistry between its leads. The best rom-coms came from classic Hollywood, without a doubt, but I do have a weakness for more modern ones. I don't know how to explain it. If they're bad, they come off as incredibly cheesy and I hate them for wasting my time. If they're good, I'm theirs, hook, line, and sinker.

One such film is 1987's superb Roxanne, an adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac starring Steve Martin and Daryl Hannah. Martin is C.D. "Charlie" Bales, the big-nosed chief of the local volunteer fire department in the small town of Nelson. Hannah is Roxanne, a graduate student staying in Nelson as she finishes her studies in astronomy. After getting her robe caught in the door of her rental and locking herself out in the nude, Roxanne is forced to scamper over to the fire department and get the help of Charlie. They immediately hit it off and become good friends. When Charlie starts developing feelings for Roxanne, however, she becomes interested in Chris (Rick Rossovich), the new man in town. Chris's inability to speak to women causes him to enlist the help of Charlie in wooing Roxanne through beautifully-written letters, enabling Charlie to finally admit his true feelings to the woman he loves without the fear of her rejecting him because of his nose.

Despite being played by one of the greatest sex symbols from the 1980s, the character of Roxanne isn't defined by her appearance. She is a brilliant, enthusiastic student; her face positively lights up as she tells Charlie and their friend Dixie (Shelley Duvall) all about the comet she is tracking. There is a telling conversation between Chris and Charlie that perfectly demonstrates how the film respects Roxanne:

Chris: "God, she's so beautiful! I saw her in the bar the other day. She was so pretty, I just--"
Charlie: "She's interesting, too."
Chris: "Interesting, sure! Have you seen her legs?"
Charlie: "She's got a sense of humor, also."

At the beginning of the film, Roxanne admits to Dixie that her
latest relationship has crumbled because she "mistook sex for love." When she lays eyes on Chris, the sexual attraction is there, but her interest is deepened when she believes he is an intelligent, thoughtful man. When his letters seem to confirm this, Roxanne is smitten -- until she learns the truth. The confrontation scene between Roxanne and Charlie is delightful. After Charlie admits he was the actual author, it looks as if Roxanne is ready to fall into his arms... and then she punches him right in the nose. Their fight soon dissolves into funny-yet-still-angry shouting.

Roxanne's best scene, though, is the last one, where she realizes that she really did fall for Charlie and not Chris. In a reversal of the leading man coming to the fair maiden's balcony to declare his adoration, Roxanne finds Charlie sitting on his roof and announces her love for him and his big, gorgeous nose. Her speech is so wonderful, I don't want to ruin it for you. You'll just have to see it yourself.

As much as I enjoy Roxanne, let's be real here: the #1 reason to see this film is Steve Martin. His presence is absolutely bewitching. Every scene he is in is made ten times brighter. Martin is one of my favorite comedians -- to be frank, I think he is a genius. As Charlie, he gives such a heartfelt, sensitive performance while still being adorably goofy and fun. There are so many moments that will stay with you after seeing this film and they are all because of Martin. Our introduction to Charlie, for example, is perfect. Singing a silly song on his way to returning a tennis racket to Dixie, he encounters two aggressive tourists who instantly joke about his nose. The ensuing fight illustrates how clever and athletic Charlie is while also alerting you to the fact that even though he has all of these amazing qualities, he still doesn't believe they compensate for his looks.

Later on, during a night out with Roxanne and Dixie, a bar patron mocks Charlie for his nose and soon regrets it when Charlie comes up with twenty insults about himself that are far better than what the original wisecrack was. In another scene, it seems like Chris is going to be the victim of Charlie's wrath when they meet and Chris can't help but be mesmerized by what he sees. Instead of becoming furious, though, Charlie is downright jolly because he was just told that Roxanne is in love with someone. Believing it to be him, he explains to Chris why he isn't mad: "Because yesterday she didn't, and today she does." How lovely is that?

That line is just one demonstration of the tremendous dialogue in Martin's sparkling script. I'm not very familiar with Cyrano de Bergerac, so I can't tell you how successful Roxanne is as an adaptation, but I can tell you that this film is just enchanting. Romantic comedy has to be done with the lightest and most sincere touch. Not everyone can achieve that kind of balance, but then again, not every rom-com has Steve Martin at the helm.

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This is my entry to the Movie Scientist Blogathon. For Day 1's look at good scientists, click here. For Day 2's mad scientists, go here. And for Day 3's lonely scientists, look here.

Comments

  1. I wish this film had shown more of Roxanne's work as a scientist; however, it is a terrific feel-good film with funny lines and gorgeous scenery. And I'm with you when it comes to romantic comedies – if they're funny and well done, I am a lifelong fan.

    Thanks for joining the blogathon, and for reminding me what a wonderful film this is.

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    1. Thanks for having me! Yes, it would have been nice to have seen Roxanne at work more, especially since she loves it so much and she is successful in finding the comet she's been studying.

      Oh yes, I forgot the scenery! British Columbia made for a great backdrop. It's interesting that Nelson is supposed to be a ski town, but it seems to be set during the off-season. I wonder if that's because it was easier to film without the tourists around.

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  2. You have reminded me that I have not seen this movie in years. What is the matter with me?!

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    1. No time like the present to revisit it! Hopefully you find it as delightful as ever!

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  3. This sounds charming! I have been watching some of Steve Martin's films this year and have come to a greater appreciation of his comedic skills. It's funny, but I recently was thinking of watching a Japanese samurai adaption of the play, too. Maybe this would be the perfect double-header! :)

    Thanks so much for highlighting this film! I was not actually familiar with it before. Thanks again and thanks for joining the blogathon! :)

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    Replies
    1. Now that's an interesting double feature! I just adore Steve Martin. Two of my faves, if you haven't checked them out yet, are Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (with Michael Caine!) and Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (a film noir parody directed by Carl Reiner and spliced with dozens of classic films).

      Glad to introduce you to this film! And thanks for having me along!

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  4. Nice review. I saw this film recently on television...and was reminded how much I prefer the 1950 film with Jose Ferrer. Martin and Hannah can't compare. Of course, Martin suffered from the handicap of not being able to plunge an actual sword through his adversaries.

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    Replies
    1. I haven't seen the Ferrer version, but I've heard great things about it and I know Martin's love for it was why he did his adaptation. I'll be sure to keep an eye out for it! Thanks for reading!

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