Paramount // 1990 // 96 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // August 17th, 2007
It's good to want things.
There's an awfully sad movie inside of Welcome Home, Roxy Charmichael, and I'm not sure all of the characters know it. That's probably because the movie's director, Jim Abrahams, doesn't want to admit that the movie is not a comedy. As one of the forces behind gag-a-second movies like Airplane! and the Naked Gun series, Abrahams has got to feel more at home with laughter than tears. As a result, he tries to force this round peg of a movie into the wrong kind of square hole.
The city of Clyde, Ohio's biggest success story, Roxy Carmichael, is planning to return home for a visit after a 15-year absence. To celebrate, the residents of Clyde are gearing up for a huge welcoming celebration. But Roxy's arrival begins to have an unexpected impact on everyone, including her ex-lover Denton (the always dependable Jeff Daniels, Love Hurts), who may not have ever moved on, and the town's resident teenage oddball, Dinky Bossetti (Winona Ryder, A Scanner Darkly), who refuses to bathe and only gets along with animals. As Roxy's visit draws nearer, secrets are revealed and relationships are both formed and destroyed in the name of a mythologized bad-girl-made-good.
The people depicted in Roxy Carmichael are sad, lonely people who are all in some way damaged, and who have decided that Roxy Carmichael is the cure to their problems. For some, the problems are romantic; for others, it's the need to belong to something or someone. They are basically good people who want better. So why Abrahams feels the need to constantly mock and condescend to them, I cannot understand. He dresses them up in trailer-park chic and shoots the film in a garish, broad style -- it too often looks and feels like some imitation John Waters. But the script, by first-timer Karen Leigh Hopkins, isn't making fun of them. It has genuine affection for these characters -- even the seemingly meanest among them. Of course, Hopkins would later go on to write Because I Said So, so I can no longer feel any sympathy for what would become of her writing.
Jeff Daniels, the go-to guy for playing everyman sadness, delivers another in his long resume of solid performances. He's one of those actors that's so good but so seemingly average that he gets overlooked too often. Winona Ryder was still in the quirky-and-smart outsider phase in her career (you know -- the one that ended with Reality Bites), and supplies the unfortunately named Dinky with some much needed gravity. I'm not sure there's another actress who could have made the character -- or her unusual relationship with the school's guidance counselor (played by Laila Robins of Live Nude Girls) -- work. It's a reminder of just how badly her early promise is missed.
The movie's best scene is short and subtle and delicately handled (it's one of the few), and I don't want to give much of it away. I will just say that it involves two characters we don't really know much about, but in the span of a few short lines of dialogue fills in all the gaps of several relationships. It's quietly heartbreaking.
Paramount's DVD release of Roxy is passable. The 1.85:1 anamorphic image, though cleaned up some, still shows age and lacks the detail of many higher profile titles. The stereo audio track is serviceable as well, delivering the dialogue without much objection.
Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael is the kind of movie that doesn't get made anymore. It's an unassuming little character piece that's not easily categorized and doesn't hold a ton of box-office appeal. These days, it would end up going straight to video while License to Wed shows on the big screen.
It will more than likely be ignored on DVD, too, and that's kind of a shame. But, then, it was badly marketed on its release (I'm one of seven people who actually remembers both the release and the marketing of Roxy Carmichael), pawned off as a comedic star vehicle for Ryder. While it's true that Ryder is a big part of the show, I still can't reconcile the movie as a comedy.
And for that, I'm back to pointing the finger at Jim Abrahams. He's guilty of wanting us to laugh at these characters, and they deserve better.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 1990
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13