WELCOME HOME ROXY CARMICHAEL is less a movie than it is an example of what the studios refer to as "product," the kind of toothless comedy that features big stars in frenetic and forgettable farces. As he did with his solo directing debut, BIG BUSINESS, Jim Abrahams (one-third of the
AIRPLANE! directing troika that includes David and Jerry Zucker) seems intent on reviving the Preston Sturges style of screen comedy. However, Abrahams's work recalls Sturges without recapturing what made him unique--his anarchic spirit. When movies become "product," true anarchy has no place.
While BIG BUSINESS, with its twin couples and a plot hinging on love and money, vaguely echoes THE PALM BEACH STORY, Abrahams dusts off HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO. In ROXY, a small town is driven into lunacy by the triumphant return of the title character, who has come home to dedicate the institute
of drama and cosmetology that is to bear her name. HERO focuses on the dilemma of a phony war hero (played by Eddie Bracken) who is about to be celebrated by his hometown; ROXY shrouds its eponymous heroine ("played" by onetime Playboy centerfold Ava Fabian) in mystery. Although we get a lingering
look at Roxy's bare bottom during a skinny-dip, we never do see her face. Instead ROXY puts at its center what was the sideshow in Sturges's classic, the town--in this case Clyde, Ohio.
As Roxy's arrival approaches, the women of the town drive the local beauty shop and dressmakers to distraction, vying to make a competitive showing with the returning beauty. The men are mostly compelled to recall her "reputation." Roxy's arrival also provokes bittersweet memories, particularly
for Denton Webb (Jeff Daniels), Roxy's former sweetheart, with whom she had a baby. Another ex-lover, a woman (Dinah Manoff), is similarly affected. But the film's real center is town misfit Dinky Bossetti (Winona Ryder), the adopted daughter of a local carpet mogul, who becomes convinced that
Roxy is her real mother. An outcast at her high school--the kids sit far away from her in the cafeteria and pelt her with food--Dinky writes overwrought romantic poetry hoping to win the love of a bland classmate (Thomas Wilson Brown, a Sean Penn lookalike who seems a little old to be cruising
around town on his skateboard). She also keeps her own "ark," a wrecked cabin cruiser that is home to a pig Dinky has saved from slaughter, a goat, a tortoise, and a cute Benji-like dog with a bandaged forepaw. Given Dinky's bohemian-rustic nature, it's a little hard to fathom her worship of Roxy.
Though Roxy is a misfit herself, her fame stems mainly from having had a love song (performed by Melissa Etheridge on the soundtrack) written about her. Presumably, Roxy's songwriter-lover has also signed the royalty rights over to her, giving her ample wealth and leisure time for her languorous
Thus ROXY would have us believe that sensitive, intelligent, and creative small-town girls want nothing more than to grow up to be Hollywood bimbos. In this pursuit, Dinky even has a mentor, her drop-dead gorgeous guidance counselor (Laila Robins), who carts Dinky off to Cleveland to get her some
grown-up clothes and to reassure her about her breast development. All of this nonsense is especially odd for a movie whose writer (Karen Leigh Hopkins) and producer (Penney Finkelman Cox) are women. But the nonsense doesn't end there; Denton's shrewish wife angrily abandons him, not because he
resumes his affair with Roxy (DOES HE?), but because he parks his truck outside her house. What's more, not much is made of Dinky's stepfather's sexual indiscretion with his sales assistant. Dinky catches Dad in the act, but he is apparently able to buy her silence by--what else?--recarpeting
Dinky's bedroom in her favorite color, black.
WELCOME HOME, ROXY CARMICHAEL tries to imitate Sturges, but it obviously misses the point. Sturges loved the same small-town characters that the makers of this film treat with cynical derision. Sturges gave these characters an understated nobility in their deluded pursuit of the American
Dream--not to mention some of his best dialog. The makers of ROXY give them little more than the simpleminded cravings of stale sitcom grotesques. What real soul ROXY has is provided by Ryder's performance. Her poignant yearning, compulsive generosity, and infinite capacity for forgiveness are the
only elements in ROXY that would be at home in a Sturges film. In transcending the general crassness and inanity of ROXY, Ryder reminds the viewer of the transcendent spirit of great movies like those by Sturges. It can only be hoped that today's Hollywood will be able to rise to her challenge.
(Nudity, adult situations.)
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- Released: 1990
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: WELCOME HOME ROXY CARMICHAEL is less a movie than it is an example of what the studios refer to as "product," the kind of toothless comedy that features big stars in frenetic and forgettable farces. As he did with his solo directing debut, BIG BUSINESS, Ji… (more)