The sweet scent of love

Romantic comedy with a classic twist

Published: Aug 14 2015, 01:01:am

Friday, June 19, 1987
ROXANNE. Written by Steve Martin; based on the 1897 play Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand. Music by Bruce Smeaton. Directed by Fred Schepisi. Mature entertainment with the B.C. Classifier's warning: occasional coarse language and swearing.
     Resort-town nostalgia merchant and volunteer fire chief Charlie "C.D." Bales (Steve Martin) is on the job making the streets of picturesque Nelson, Washington, safe for lovers.
    A man of taste and refinement, C.D. is a friend to all in this Rocky Mountain hamlet. As for newcomers, they'll enjoy his goodwill and better company if they can just keep quiet about his, uhm, prominent facial feature.
    Eh bien! 
    Actor and screenwriter Steve Martin makes no secret of his regard for noble-nosed cavalier Cyrano De Bergerac. Of course his engaging new film Roxanne is based on 19th-century French playwright  Edmond Rostand's tragi-comedy.
    Here, though, he offers not so much a remake as a reconsideration of the famous tale. Updated with generosity and genuine insight, Martin's modern romance captures the essence of the classic — no mean feat at a time when towering talents such as Steven Spielberg and George Lucas follow up great movies (Raiders of the Lost Ark) with disappointing dreck (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom).
    A story for our time, Martin's Roxanne has a fine sense of present-tense proportion. Where 19th-century theatrical audiences demanded noble men and epic deeds, today's filmgoers prefer an honest emotional empathy with Everyman and his feelings.
    Martin's C.D. is smitten with Roxanne Kowalski (Daryl Hannah), a serious-minded grad student who has retreated to Nelson to study astronomy.  Alas, she is attracted to Chris McConnell (Rick Rossovich), the handsome, awkwardly shy new man down at the fire station.
    As in Rostand's original, both Chris and Roxanne turn to the witty, easy-going C.D. for help in bringing them together. A gentleman through and through, C.D. helps her to get the man she thinks she wants.
    In his screenplay and performance, Martin cuts to the heart of Rostand's tale, juxtaposing some joyously funny incidents with moments of real poignance. C.D.'s controlled anger is hilariously demonstrated in a barroom scene in which he undertakes to tell 20 inventively insulting nose jokes, before effortlessly decking his witless tormentor.
    C.D.'s humanity and wisdom is displayed in the way he talks a despondent child off a roof, or coaxes a cat from a tree. It also provides the picture with its solid centre.
     In such scenes, Martin shows an impressive new depth and sympathy. It suggests that The Jerk has made the journey to something very like comic genius.
    Roxanne was filmed in Nelson, B.C., under the direction of Australia's Fred (Iceman) Schepisi.

The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1987. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: For me, the funniest joke in Roxanne comes right at the beginning. It's early morning and Steve Martin's C.D Bales character comes out of his house, skips down to the street and puts a coin in the blue newspaper box on the sidewalk. He takes out a paper — a tabloid — and does a horrified double-take at what he sees. Turning back to the box, he puts in another coin and returns the offending rag. In 1987, The Province — the newspaper where I worked — was distributed throughout B.C., including Nelson where Roxanne was filmed, in just such blue boxes. In August 1983, after 93 years as a "respectable" broadsheet, it had been relaunched as a tabloid in an attempt to make it a more obvious alternative to the Vancouver Sun. Martin's double-take perfectly captured the feelings many in the newsroom shared about the (mis)direction our enterprise had taken.
    In common with the best print journalists, Steve Martin cares about writing. From the beginning of his career as a TV comic — on shows hosted by the likes of The Smothers Brothers or Sonny and Cher — he combined writing with performing. His first feature-length project was an hour-long TV special, The Funnier Side of Eastern Canada (1974), made to promote tourism in Montreal and Toronto. He made his move into the movies with four pictures that he wrote and starred in under the direction of Carl Reiner: The Jerk (1979), Martin's first Hollywood screenplay; Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982); The Man with Two Brains (1983) and All of Me (1984). Personally, I really hated The Jerk — I had no appreciation for his idea of the absurd — but found All of Me surprisingly likeable. Roxanne, his fifth produced screenplay, brought me on board completely. In the years since, Steve Martin has added playwright, novelist, honourary Oscar winner and banjo master to his eclectic resume. Celebrating his 70th birthday today (August 14), he is one wild and accomplished guy.