Quarantine Double Feature: Roxanne & L.A. Story
The Steve Martin Double Feature (per my dad)
May 8, 2020 at 8:03 am
When the paralyzing terror of inadvertently spreading a virus to a stranger (who then spreads it to another stranger, who then spreads it to another stranger, who then dies) has so many of us cooped up in our homes, what better to do than bring back this classic POMEsegment: the Double Feature?
Roxanne — L.A. Story
My father requested that I do a quarantine double feature, and so I have tailored it to his tastes; however! these are lovely movies nonetheless, and even if you don’t share in my specific nostalgia of growing up watching these two movies and No Others, there is still plenty of enjoyment to be had.
We begin with Roxanne (1987) — it’s Cyrano de Bergerac but in a charming Northern California ski town in the late 1980s. First of all, what’s not to love? Mostly, though — what’s not to hate? This is a great movie to introduce all of you not only to Steve Martin’s being The Most Extra (if you didn’t already know), but also to my father’s great hatred and admiration of Steve Martin’s Extravagance.
The basic premise: Steve Martin is the local fire chief and his best friend is a lesbian named Dixie, who is renting out one of her properties to a Beautiful Astronomer (Daryl Hannah). Everyone is immediately in love with this Beautiful Astronomer, including Steve Martin, but also including a Handsome Doofus who has just joined the volunteer fire brigade and has a really hard time talking to women. The Handsome Doofus asks Steve Martin for help wooing the Beautiful Astronomer, and hijinks ensue.
Small disclosure: I have neither seen nor read actual Cyrano, but I have seen this movie and Set it Up (2018), so I honestly don’t think I need to. That said, I cannot speak to the faithfulness of this adaptation; I can only tell you that Steve Martin adapted it himself (because he is ~an intellectual~, of course). He cast himself as the lead (of course); he wrote in just the sorts of gags that he does so well (of course); and then he performed the shit out of it!! Steve Martin is an impossibly talented human being and it is terrible to behold!!
And where this movie is so much about Steve Martin’s enormous talent, it is even more about that because the side characters are also really wonderful and well-written! Maybe actual Cyrano has Michael Pollard as a delightfully dopey volunteer fireman and earnest reader of Sartre, but I doubt it!!
This brings us now to L.A. Story (1991), another movie Steve Martin wrote. This time, it’s a magical realist exploration of modern love and the ineffability of fate.
The basic premise: Steve Martin is a novelty local weatherman in Los Angeles, California and his best friend is a lesbian named Ariel, who runs a juice shop and is the only person who offers him any good advice. Steve Martin’s long-time girlfriend doesn’t actually love him, and he’s attempting to rebound with a pre-Sex and the City Sarah Jessica Parker, except that he’s actually in love with a plucky English journalist who plays the tuba.
This movie is Quirky™ and Too Much in every single way, but considering that it is also specifically ABOUT the extent to which Los Angeles is Too Much and Quirky™, it’s difficult to cite that as a fault.
But again, as much as this movie is cutesy and indulgent, it is also DEEP and full of SYMBOLISM about Fate and True Love — it is ~intellectual~ and kind of serious, but also sweet and funny and weird. And again, Steve Martin wrote this part for himself, and he came up with all of these gags that he does so well, and then he did them really well! His performance is thoughtful and charming and just subtle enough! And yet, all the while, it is Too Much!!
I was raised in this house that both loves and hates Steve Martin for the deeply unfair amount of talent and hard work concentrated within him. Because of course it’s not just that he’s talented — it’s also that he works really hard! Both the breadth and volume of work he has produced in his life is so staggering! I’ve found that there are really only two ways to respond to it all:
- Hate — let the spite you’re feeling now consume you; let it fuel your own creative endeavors; strive to outshine this charming, talented bastard on the strength of your hatred alone.
- Love — enjoy these movies for the masterworks they are; know that the moments of thoughtfulness and kindness that he has interspersed between the silly gags and the sometimes self-important intellectualism are there to say that you deserve thoughtfulness and kindness; he made all of this for you.
At the start of this whole mess, I remember seeing a lot of takes about how we should all be using this time productively — make the most of it and write that screenplay, etc. And if you have it in you to do that, more power to you; if you want to adapt an award-winning bluegrass album into a complex and sad but also charming and catchy musical for the stage or learn how to play the banjo so you can release a string of acclaimed folk music albums, or write a literary novel about art, go for it! If you’re feeling up to it/if spite is what fuels you.
But also, know that you’re allowed to Not do that! You’re allowed to use this time to be stressed and scared and unproductive! You’re allowed to use this time to Not compare yourself to other people! You’re allowed to use this time to just sit down and watch some movies that will make you laugh and think and forget about everything terrible that’s happening right now.