Shelley Duvall

Roxanne (1987, Fred Schepisi)

Roxanne is a charming romantic comedy. Wait, I think it might need an additional qualifier—it’s a charming romantic situational comedy. I’m not one to sit around and debate stakes with romantic comedies, but even for a romantic comedy… Roxanne’s got some low stakes. Maybe because of how closely screenwriter (and leading man) Steve Martin followed his adaptation of the source play (Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac) but also maybe not.

Martin is a small ski resort town’s fire chief. His department is made up almost exclusively of volunteers, all of whom seem really bad at their jobs at the fire department and—possibly—even worse at their day jobs. Mayor Fred Willard, for example, has no apparent skills as a firefighter but he’s a terrible mayor. Though good looking enough compared to the other men of the town he can still hang a couple ski bunnies off his arms. Then there’s stereotypical eighties pig John Kapelos, whose best pick-up line involves confusing his target with a recent Playmate because his worst pick-up lines involve his dead animal shop. Martin would be a major catch if it just weren’t for his abnormally large nose, which makes him the target of ridicule—leading to fistfights, which are always a mistake for the teasers because Martin’s a badass—as well as some sympathy. God-sister Shelley Duvall is his only real friend, but more because all the guys are varying degrees of idiot. It’s unclear how the town functioned with the untrained fire department before the film starts, which, again, doesn’t really matter because… situational comedy. There’s a very low bar for reality. Like how the town doesn’t have any sort of law enforcement; even if Martin kicking his teasers’ asses up and down the picturesque streets is self-defense, you’d think there’d at least be a police report. Or hospital visits.

Everything changes with the summer arrival of Daryl Hannah, who all the guys lust after but only Martin really loves for her insides; she’s a smart, accomplished astronomer. They have a cute, funny meeting where Hannah’s locked out of her house and Martin helps her get the door unlocked. Only Hannah’s managed to lock herself out in the nude (thanks to a wonderfully shitty cat—Roxanne knows its cats). Charming. Situational. Comedy.

Simultaneous to Hannah showing up in town (she’s renting from Duvall, who’s apparently an exploitative landlord, something the film doesn’t dwell on but does establish) is professional firefighter Rick Rossovich starting with the fire department. He’s there to help Martin whip them into shape, so it’s unclear why it takes so long for Rossovich and Martin to actually meet. Like, who’s supervising him his first three days. Rossovich lives in the firehouse, how does Martin keep missing him. Oh, wait, doesn’t matter. Situational comedy.

Turns out Hannah’s on the rebound and looking for an easy summer lay and hunk Rossovich is just what she wants. And Rossovich is all about Hannah because… well, she’s blonde and has legs. Actually, her being blonde might not even figure in. The legs get talked about. I’m assuming on the blonde. Only Rossovich has severe social anxiety. He’s also a himbo. And he’s also a slut. But Martin likes Hannah enough he agrees to encourage Rossovich on her behalf, which leads to him writing Hannah love letters ostensibly from Rossovich but really from him. Because romantic comedy.

After the first act, Hannah’s just around as romantic conquest, but she’s still really likable. Martin’s great. He’s got occasional comedic set pieces, which usually work. Rossovich is… low okay. The part doesn’t require much and Rossovich doesn’t bring much. He’s also got a decided lack of chemistry with Hannah. It’s not clear from the start—since their relationship is so complicated—but once he starts flirting with bimbo cocktail waitress Shandra Beri, who he does have chemistry with… well, it’s a ding.

Though director Schepisi relies on his cast to do their own acting. Especially the firefighters. None of them are as funny as they ought to be, especially Michael J. Pollard. Though it could also be John Scott’s editing. There’s something off with the film’s cuts. Schepisi shoots it wide Panavision, which works well for the medium to long shots and not so well on the close-ups. Again, might be Scott’s cutting.

Roxanne is funny and cute. Could it be more? Maybe? It’s hard to imagine it with Martin, Hannah, or Rossovich having any more depth though. Martin and Hannah certainly seem capable of essaying that potential depth… Rossovich not so much.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Fred Schepisi; screenplay by Steve Martin, based on a play by Edmond Rostand; director of photography, Ian Baker; edited by John Scott; music by Bruce Smeaton; production designer, Jackson De Govia; produced by Daniel Melnick and Michael Rachmil; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Steve Martin (C.D. Bales), Daryl Hannah (Roxanne), Rick Rossovich (Chris), Shelley Duvall (Dixie), Shandra Beri (Sandy), John Kapelos (Chuck), Fred Willard (Mayor Deebs), and Michael J. Pollard (Andy).


Thieves Like Us (1974, Robert Altman)

Altman never does a film half-assed. Either it’s great or it’s shit. How one of his films can be shit is varied, but the shitty ones are always just plain… shitty. There’s no formula to figuring out how an Altman film is going to be–usually, if Altman thinks it’s shit, it’s good (M*A*S*H, The Player). Thieves Like Us is small, the big cast doesn’t occupy the running time. The main characters really are the main characters. I’ve been dreading Thieves for a few weeks now and I’m sorry I did. I probably should have checked the screenwriters. I would have felt better. Calder Willingham wrote Little Big Man, The Graduate, and Paths of Glory. I don’t know how you can get safer than him….

It’s not just the writing or the direction–Altman really likes setting a film in the 1930s, it lets him use radio programs instead of a score. That method seems very Altman-like. The cast, as they used to be in Altman films, is impeccable. Keith Carradine means little to me except his 1990s schlock work and Shelley Duvall has always just meant bad. Their romance holds the film together and it’s a wonderful little gem of a movie romance. You enjoy watching them fall in love. John Schuck and Bert Remsen are the other titular thieves and both are excellent. A pre-Cuckoo’s Nest Louise Fletcher shows up… It’s just a fantastic cast, great acting.

Of course, Thieves Like Us is not available on DVD in the US. I rented it from Nicheflix. It’s another title waiting for the rock stars at Sony to decide what to do with it (however, if they cancelled special editions of A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More, how high a priority is Thieves going to be?). It’s no fair, of course, since there should be at least six good Altman films available on DVD and I doubt there are….

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Altman; screenplay by Calder Willingham, Joan Tewkesbury and Altman, based on the novel by Edward Anderson; director of photography, Jean Bouffety; edited by Lou Lombardo; produced by Jerry Bick; distributed by United Artists.

Starring Keith Carradine (Bowie), Shelley Duvall (Keechie), John Schuck (Chicamaw), Bert Remsen (T-Dub), Louise Fletcher (Mattie), Ann Latham (Lula) and Tom Skerritt (Dee Mobley).


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