Viewer Guide: Roxanne and The Calling

July 3, 2020 | Richard Peña


This week’s classic is Roxanne, the 1987 romantic comedy directed by Fred Schepisi.

Steve Martin stars in his own screen adaptation of Edmond Rostand’s beloved 1897 play Cyrano de Bergerac, giving the classic romance a contemporary twist while offering ample opportunity to showcase his trademark absurdist comedy.  Martin plays C.D. “Charlie” Bales, fire chief in the picturesque mountain resort town of Nelson in Washington state.  And like Rostand’s immortal hero Cyrano, Charlie also suffers the genetic misfortune of being endowed with an exceptionally large nose—a defect that has served to sharpen his wit as well as his swashbuckling fighting prowess—but has also left him perennially bereft of romance.  Unable to benefit from plastic surgery due to a dangerous allergy to anesthesia, Charlie appears resigned to a solitary life supervising a ragtag crew that seem to have been trained at the Keystone Cops firefighters academy.  But as the saying goes, hope springs eternal, and when a beautiful graduate student in astronomy named Roxanne, played by Daryl Hannah, arrives in town to search the skies for a new comet, Charlie finds himself, once again, reaching for the moon.  However, his renewed dreams are dashed by the arrival of Chris McConnell, a strapping new recruit at the fire house, played by Rick Rossovich, who catches Roxanne’s eye.  But when Roxanne seeks Charlie’s advice on how to connect with the tongue-tied Chris, Charlie finds himself using Chris as the physical avatar for his own amorous feelings for Roxanne, which steadily escalates into zany romantic confusion grandly played in classic Steve Martin style.

Also featured in supporting roles are Shelley Duvall as a sympathetic bar owner and Fred Willard as town mayor, along with Michael J. Pollard and Damon Wayans as two members of Charlie’s inept troupe of firefighters.

A fan of Cyrano de Bergerac ever since seeing the 1950 movie adaptation starring José Ferrer, Steve Martin began working on a contemporary update of the story in the early 1980s, writing some 25 drafts of his screenplay over a three-year period.  With various character and plot elements echoing the original play, perhaps Martin’s most radical departure from the play was his determination to make sure that for once Cyrano finally got the girl in the end.


The Calling

This week’s indie is The Calling, a 2014 suspense thriller directed by Jason Stone.

Susan Sarandon stars as Hazel Micallef, a police detective in the rural Canadian town of Fort Dundas, Ontario. From the looks of things, it doesn’t seem like there’s usually all that much to investigate in Fort Dundas, providing Hazel with ample time to surreptitiously self-medicate with alcohol and pills, a longtime dependency that originated years before from a hospital stay for back surgery, as well as a miscarriage. But one day while checking in on an elderly resident, Hazel makes the horrifying discovery of the woman’s brutal murder, a shocking event that is followed days later by another killing bearing bizarre similarities, with the victims’ mouths frozen in distinct formations, as if they were saying or even singing something at the time of their deaths. And when a spooky stranger going by the name of “Simon,” played by Christopher Heyerdahl, turns up in town, offering a homemade medicinal tea to susceptible strangers, Hazel begins to connect some disturbing dots: could there be a serial killer preying on the helpless in sleepy Fort Dundas?

Also featured in supporting roles are Ellen Burstyn as Hazel’s mother, Gil Bellows as Hazel’s fellow detective, Topher Grace as the town’s new police recruit, and Donald Sutherland as an aging priest whose knowledge of Latin—and ancient Catholic ritual—provides Hazel with the unexpected key to unraveling the mystery.

Adapted from the novel by Inger Ash Wolfe, The Calling was produced by Canadians Scott Abramovitch and Lonny Dubrofsky, who first met in the early 90s when Abramovitch was a bat boy for the Montreal Expos and Dubrofsky was a radio broadcast producer for the team. Intrigued with the book’s religious-themed mystery by a Canadian author and optimistic about the property’s commercial potential, the two Jewish producers initially assumed that director Jason Stone could help them flesh out the finer points of Christian ritual featured in the plot—but when Stone turned out to be Jewish as well, the trio looked further to the novel’s author—only to discover that “Inger Ash Wolfe” was in fact a pen name for Jewish writer Michael Redhill. Fortunately, the Anglo-Italian Susan Sarandon was on hand to lend the production not only her star power but her expertise in Catholicism, gleaned from her childhood years attending Catholic schools as well as The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, where she received a BA in Drama. Abramovitch and Dubrofsky’s history with the Expos proved useful in attracting the interest of Donald Sutherland, another fellow Canadian and diehard fan of the fabled team, who for years would call in to the Expos office from international locations to listen to entire games over the phone. Now that’s a religious calling that nobody can deny!

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