Monday, November 06, 2006


Last night was humid and unsettled, and I was in no mood to go to bed. Instead I sat on the couch and watched a midnight screening of Steve Martin's 'Roxanne' on TV. I've always liked this film. It's wonderously beautiful to look at, the characters are fun, and its unabashedly romantic mood is charming.

Visually, the film stands up pretty well. Except for the odd bouffant perm or pastel T-shirt there's not too much that bellows "1987". However, there's a faint atmosphere of callowness about it which only seems noticeable now, in 2006. I must have been around nineteen or twenty when I first saw it, so it would be easy to blame my failure to notice this on my own gaucherie. But the reviewers of the time (assembled here) had exactly the same reaction despite being twice my age.

It seems likely, then, that 'Roxanne' demonstrates just how much the Western world's expression of "sophistication" has changed over the last twenty years.

The streets of Nelson are as determinedly contrived as those of Bedford Falls, so much so that it's almost endearing that they thought we wouldn't notice. Any shot of the main street is dressed with parked cars that look like a giant child's Matchbox collection - beautifully restored American classic sedans, Porsches, Mercedes convertibles, Corvettes - there's not a station wagon or a delivery truck in the entire city.

Nor are there any supermarkets or hardware stores. There are places aplenty to buy a capuccino, an ormolu clock or a moose head, but apparently no one ever needs a carton of milk or a new screwdriver.

Then there's the dialogue, which often sounds as if the studio hired a pretentious teenager to be their script editor. The characters are laughably conscientious in demonstrating their sophistication by drinking wine, or, as Shelley Duvall pronounces it, "wiiiiiiiiiine". "Dave, can you bring us a bottle of wiiiiiiiiiine, please?" she asks in one scene, as if all bottles of wine are as interchangable as bottles of Pepsi, and it makes no difference if she receives a crisp chardonnay or a velvety old merlot. As she's supposed to be a cafe owner, and is never depicted without a glass in her hand, one could reasonably expect her to appreciate the difference.

Meanwhile Daryl Hannah is using big, sophisticated words, but pausing for a millisecond before she says them, as if the words are unfamiliar and she's trying them out for the first time. They appear to be shoved into the centre of her otherwise ordinary sentences like a fabulous drag queen in a queue at the bank. "The night is extemporaneous", she says at one point, as if this makes the remotest bit of sense.

In response, Steve Martin is uttering supposedly romantic lines that sound like the most wretched poetry of a lovesick high-schooler. The fact that Roxanne falls for this prose, so purple it sounds like it's been bruised, makes her appear shallow and pretentious to modern eyes, but there's no hint that we're expecting to think that.

All in all, it comes across in 2006 as a rube's idea of sophistication, all big words, ham-fisted artistic references and wiiiiiiiiiine, juggled by the characters like they're live grenades. But Steve Martin is, by all accounts, a very well-read and knowledgable man. How did a person like him produce something that feels like this?

Presumably it just didn't feel like that in 1987. This was, after all, a time when 'BJ and The Bear' and 'The Dukes of Hazzard' were considered suitable things for adults to be watching in prime time. Perhaps the world was just a less urbane place back then.


Blogger Jege (Jen) said...

That was spot-on.

Can I request that you review "Bull Durham" next? I love this film for the level of comfort it gives me (it immediately puts me at ease, just like "Roxanne") but I find myself bothered by the "perfectness" of Kevin Costner's speech about what he believes. At any one time, I can only think of about 5 things that I believe in, and 2 of them involve beer.

7:43 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home