Sony // 1987 // 107 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // April 22nd, 2009
Roxanne dreamed of a handsome, intelligent, romantic man. C.D. Bales is two out of three...but looks aren't everything!
One of Steve Martin's most ambitious and engaging comedies hits hi-def. Is it worth an upgrade? Let's dig in.
C.D. Bales (Steve Martin, Planes, Trains and Automobiles) is an all-around great guy. He's remarkably athletic, he's intellectual, he's witty, he's kind-hearted, and he is the chief of the local fire department in a small mountain town. Everybody likes C.D., but most of them feel a little awkward around him. You see, C.D. has a rather distinct feature: an enormously long nose. It's a nose so long that C.D. can't even drink a glass of wine without a straw. C.D. is very sensitive about his nose, proceeding to turn anyone who dares mock him into a human punching bag. The nose (and C.D.'s general sheepishness) has prevented him from ever having a really serious romantic relationship with a woman. However, C.D.'s heart skips a beat when he lays eyes on the town's new resident, the beautiful Roxanne (Daryl Hannah, Splash).
Roxanne is an astronomer who just so happens to be in town doing some research on a comet. She's a smart and funny woman, and C.D. finds her to be an absolutely delightful person. He quickly develops deep feelings for her and soon begins to suspect that she may feel the same way about him. Alas, Roxanne has her eye on a hunky young fire department employee named Chris (Rick Rossovich, Top Gun). C.D. is naturally frustrated when he hears the news, but determines to try to make Roxanne happy in any way he can. He aids the bumbling, idiotic Chris in his attempts to woo Roxanne, writing elegant letters for Chris that seem to contradict the dolt's empty-headed conversational statements. How long can the facade last? If Roxanne ever discovers the truth, will she find room in her heart for C.D. Bales?
1987's Roxanne marks something of a turning point in the career of Steve Martin. Up until that point, his filmography was dominated by very silly (but undeniably entertaining) collaborations with Carl Reiner. They were good movies, but Martin was generally regarded as little more than a wacky goofball by most moviegoers. Roxanne kicked off a series of films that combined the best of the old Steve Martin (the wild and crazy guy sense of humor) with the best of the new Steve Martin (the dryly witty intellectual writing fabulous novellas and articles for The New Yorker). Martin may currently be wallowing in lowbrow drivel like the Cheaper by the Dozen and Pink Panther films, but Roxanne is a solid reminder of just how wonderful he can be.
The film is a gracefully delightful adaptation of Edmond Rostand's play Cyrano de Bergerac, albeit a very loose one. Much like the wonderful L.A. Story (which like this film was written by Martin), Roxanne subtly works references to its classic source material into the fabric of a modern-day romantic comedy, and the results are just smashing. The film works remarkably well as both a comedy and a romance, by turns touching and side-splitting. It's a delicate balancing act that spotlights Martin in peak form as a writer and actor, deftly blending sentiment and comedy without ever veering to far in either direction.
The set-up in which C.D. Bales attempts to work out his feelings for Roxanne by helping a clueless buffoon like Chris could have been remarkably annoying in many romantic comedies, but here Martin really sells us on the reasoning for the behavior of everyone involved. Bales' low sense of self-worth permits him to believe that his actions are nothing but loving and affectionate. Hannah is not turned into merely a pretty plot device to steer the film, but a well-developed and engaging character who has quite a few opinions of her own about the situation. That may not sound like a remarkable achievement, but far too many cinematic love triangles are far too content to set up one character as nothing more than a bland object of desire. Not so here. We are made to care about C.D. and Roxanne as characters, and the inevitable payoff is enormously satisfying.
The film manages to supply a steady stream of laughs throughout, many of which come from a talented array of supporting players. The film picks unforgettable faces and personalities to populate the town: Fred Willard (Best in Show) offers a lot of loopy lines as the town's hard-partying mayor, Michael J. Pollard (Bonnie and Clyde) makes us laugh just by scrunching up his face as odd times, Shelley Duvall (The Shining) brings life to a supporting character that could have been forgettable, and John Kapelos (Vibes) makes an unapologetically sexist character preposterously amusing. Silent film-inspired sight gags are constantly on display in the background thanks to the general incompetence of Bales' fire department. It's amazing how many jokes one can wring out of a hose.
The transfer is acceptable if not quite astonishing. Detail (both facial and background) is pretty solid throughout, with the exception of a few scenes that seem considerably too soft and blurry. Blacks are reasonably deep, and the dark scenes manage to avoid being murky or muddled. A pretty steady layer of grain is present throughout the film, along with very minor scratches and flecks. The film isn't really much to look at from a visual perspective, despite a few bits of inventive cinematography. Audio is just fine, with the very '80s score by Bruce Smeaton sounding exceptionally clear and vibrant. The sound design here is rather minimal, but the balance between the dialogue and music is solid. Don't expect too much of the audio track, though. I didn't notice a single instance of subwoofer action and rear speaker action is kept to a minimum. Sadly, no extras are included on the disc (just like the DVD). That's a real shame; this film definitely deserves some sort of special edition.
I have no real complaints to make other than the fact that the film has dated a bit poorly. The story and script are absolutely timeless, but the visual style of the film (along with the score) has a foot planted very firmly in some of the less fortunate aspects of the 1980s. A small quibble, but a quibble nonetheless.
Roxanne is a must-see for Martin fans, as it represents of one of the high points of his career. There's a little of something to appeal to everyone here, and it's hard to imagine any audience member really disliking this sweet, smart, funny flick. The Blu-ray doesn't offer much of anything new in the supplemental department, but it probably warrants an upgrade from the none-too-impressive 2002 release.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (French)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 107 Minutes
Release Year: 1987
MPAA Rating: Rated PG