Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 28, 2016)
When its comes to the Oscars, comedic actors don’t tend to get a lot of love, as Steve Martin can attest. Despite a few much-praised performances, Martin never got love from the Academy, and his lauded work in 1987’s Roxanne remains a blotch on award history.
Nearly 30 years after the film’s release, it still looks like Martin got screwed. Was his performance the best of 1987? That I can't say, but Martin offered enough of a comic tour de force to at least warrant a nomination.
A revamping of the Cyrano de Bergarac tale, CD Bales (Martin) works as the fire chief in a small Colorado town. He maintains a minor chip on his shoulder due to the gigantic nose on his face, an appendage so extreme that he could rent it out as a chin-up bar.
Despite his facial deformity, though, CD usually presents as a likable, genial guy who stands as a pillar of the community. When lovely Roxanne (Daryl Hannah) comes to town, CD immediately finds himself smitten but his lack of romantic confidence - completely at odds with every other aspect of his personality - prevents him from the pursuit her affections.
A complication arises when Chris (Rick Rossovich) arrives on the scene. Hunky Chris possesses every physical advantage in the book but he doesn’t present what you'd call a deep thinker.
Even with his physical gifts, Chris also suffers from a lack of social confidence, so he entreats CD to use his intellect to win Roxanne to Chris' side. Given CD’s own feelings toward Roxanne, this creates complications.
The movie’s story never rises above the simple moralizing of "it's what's on the inside that counts" but the performances help make Roxanne charming and entertaining. As alluded at the start of this review, Martin indeed excels as Bales. He brings a wonderfully fluid physicality to the role in addition to a verbal grace and wit that work well. When needed, Martin also makes Bales vulnerable and expresses his self-doubt convincingly.
As Roxanne, Hannah seems acceptable, but I must admit her work never did much for me. For the audience to believe that Bales would feel smitten by Roxanne, we need to see more than Hannah's physical charms, and she partially succeeds in her attempt to convince us that Bales' attraction is more than skin deep.
But only partially. Hannah’s Roxanne occasionally comes across as rather self-absorbed, especially since her relationship with Chris/CD seems to be completely about her. Granted, this occurs mainly for
story reasons, but it would be nice to see what she gives back during the relationship, as we mainly see and hear her demands and desires.
Rossovich aptly portrays Chris as an affable lunkhead. While our sympathies remain firmly in CD's court, Chris makes for a likable character. Of course, we hope that he'll fail in his quest for Roxanne's affections, but we wish him no ill will. Rossovich keeps the character genial but not overly compelling, which effectively maintains the distance from him that we need.
The film boasts a strong supporting cast, but none of them really get much to do, as the movie focuses strongly on its three principals. Actually, Shelley Duvall seems vaguely irritating as Dixie, friend to both CD and Roxanne, but Fred Willard offers some well-practiced bluster as the town's mayor. Oh, and keep an eye out for Damon Wayans in a small part as another fireman.
Director Fred Schepisi moves the story along at a decent pace, though some scenes seem to lag a little long and he tends to milk some gags too hard. Overall, Roxanne becomes an affable little movie that probably would have been forgotten by now were it not for a fine lead performance from Steve Martin.