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'Roxy' Goes From Wild to Warmth

October 12, 1990|SHEILA BENSON | TIMES FILM CRITIC

"Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael" (citywide) isn't truly terrible, it's truly confused. It's as though director Jim Abrahams wanted to do heartfelt comedy-drama but couldn't quite shake off the wicked edge of his alma mater, ZAZ: Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker, the dementos behind "Airplane!" and "The Naked Gun."

So on the satiric front we watch the modest town of Clyde, Ohio, turning itself inside out while it awaits the triumphant return of its 30-year-old prodigal Roxy Carmichael, who is coming back after 15 years in Hollywood to dedicate the Roxy Carmichael Center for Cosmetology and Drama. Reverential tours are being conducted through the place where Roxy spent her Wonder Years. Roxy's modest birthplace is deeply pink, from her pink refrigerator-cum-closet to the pink wrapping on her Almond Rocas, the most heavily plugged candy since E.T. ate that trail of Reese's Pieces.

The town's ladies are outdoing each other buying and squeezing into garish clothes for the Roxy Ball. Jeff Daniels, whom Roxy "married" when she was 10 and who fathered their baby when she was 15, is a very nervous man. Now properly married and the father of two, he is beset with enough what-ifs to drive his wife (Joan McMurtrey) crazy.

Part of the movie's joke is that no one can quite say why Roxy is so famous. We can see, from faceless glimpses of her skinny-dipping in her pool, that she's cellulite-free enough to be an extra on "Lucky / Chances." Yet Roxy is not an actress, a singer or a dancer. She did inspire a song, and inspire its singer-songwriter to the point of giving her the rights before she left him. Beyond that, her fame seems to come from being famous.

So far, pretty funny. Mean in spots, peculiar in others--but funny. But "Welcome Home" is really about Dinky Bossetti (Winona Ryder), a wise, brilliant high school misfit who wears all-black and glowers at the world from under her bangs. It's another of the all-purpose Winona Ryder roles, which are beginning to fit her like a straitjacket. After "Square Dance," it was clear she could do almost anything; it would be nice if someone would let her out to try. The bubble-gum bride from "Great Balls of Fire" wasn't it.

But while Dinky is being Herself, the endangered adolescent, Abrahams and the film's screenwriter, Karen Leigh Hopkins, have to shift the movie's gears. Now it's no longer the world of wild pink satire but a warmer, more caring place to be. Dinky's so prescient she knows just what her nifty guidance counselor (Laila Robins) should do with her life, and so shockingly original she attracts the most interesting boy in town (Thomas Wilson Brown). Now we have to worry about Dinky's heart being broken by Roxy, who she's decided is her real mother.

Amid all this Dinky drama, Clyde and its citizens remain wild caricatures; no matter how good and how hard-working the film's actors are--and they're fine--the slippage is too great. "It's good to want things" is the movie's peculiar ad line; is it too much to want a little consistency?

'WELCOME HOME,

ROXY CARMICHAEL'

A Paramount Pictures presentation of an ITC Entertainment Group Production. Producer Penney Finkelman Cox, Executive producer Karen Leigh Hopkins. Director Jim Abrahams. Screenplay Hopkins. Camera Paul Elliott. Editor Bruce Green. Production designer Dena Roth. Music Thomas Newman. Costumes Betsy Heimann. Art directors John Myhre, Rosemary Brandenburg. With Winona Ryder, Jeff Daniels, Laila Robins, Thomas Wilson Brown, Joan McMurtrey, Graham Beckel. Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes.

MPAA-rated: PG-13 (off-screen and fleeting suggestion of lesbian affair).

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