There’s already the debate as to whether Roxanne is a guilty pleasure or not, I think it is because it’s an old romantic tale but with a twist in the nose. Comic legend Steve Martin adapts the Cyrano de Bergerac play by Edmond Rostand and it’s one of his finest moments as a lead actor and script-writer.
For those in need of a little back story, Martin plays Charlie.D. Bales (C.D. from here on in), the local fire chief of small-town Nelson in British Columbia, Canada but he’s got one unmistakable thing about him, he has a giant nose and is pretty darn sensitive if anyone says anything about it. We learn this from the moment the film opens, as we witness him fight two men, only armed with a tennis racket after they assume he’s a pushover. Now, it’s obviously violent in some form but it’s more comical than uncomfortable, Martin’s C.D. is quick witted in verse and equally when he needs to defend himself physically.
When C.D. meets newcomer-to-town Roxanne, played by the delectable Daryl Hannah, (who’d previously starred in Splash and Blade Runner) he instantly falls in love with her. Roxanne is an astronomer and although she loves C.D’s company, she falls for jock Chris McConnell (Rick Rossovich), a handsome yet dim fellow fire-fighter. From here, C.D. somehow gets mixed up in sending letters from his own heart but acting for Chris because the latter can’t write a single word and the best he can come up with is “Can I fluff your pillows?”, whereas Charlie is a true wordsmith.
There’s a terrific comic scene where Chris is trying to talk to Roxanne outside with an earpiece as C.D. feeds him the lines. Unfortunately, a Police radio takes over on the frequency they’re on but Chris is so dim, he just starts repeating what the Cops are saying. The brilliance of Roxanne is the simplistic nature that’s mixed effortlessly with quick quips plus endless moments of Steve Martin in his element. Roxanne is all about the charisma and that’s what makes it particularly distinct. Yeah, sure it’s old school romance, wooing or whatever else you want to call it but they’ve got it spot on.
It’s not just about the great lead roles of Hannah and Martin though; every single pocket and corner of the film gives a flowing narrative. There are proper characters everywhere, from the legendary Fred Willard as Mayor Deebs (‘Teach a cow to drink a beer!’), there’s the awesome Shelley Duvall as C.D’s long term friend Dixie plus unforgettable support from the aforementioned Rossovich, the quirky Michael J. Pollard, John Kapelos (who invites all the new ladies to a ‘Nelson tradition of Hot-tubbing’) and even an impressive young Damon Wayans. I also believe that you need to watch Roxanne to really understand it and what better than this scene in a bar where C.D. Bales has to make jokes about his nose, 20 different ways (and actually does 25!) for a bet with a lowlife:
Roxanne succeeds in a different way to other Steve Martin films. He’s comically on absolute top form and – quite literally – takes on gymnastics to get into houses where people have locked themselves out, he comes across as smart but quite equally grounded and with the charm factor, this is irresistible. It’s vibrant to this day, full of passion and lyrical language where every word is important. This may not have the impact of the classic 80s blockbusters but it packs a punch for looking beyond what’s in front of you and some good old-fashioned romance. I just can’t fault it, even 35 years later.
Watch Roxanne now on Prime Video: https://amzn.to/3Hdm57F or Apple TV right here.
My review was originally published on TheHollywoodNews.com.