50 Movies for 50 States: Week 37 – Ohio, Film – Welcome Home, Roxie Carmichael

Week 37 – Ohio

Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael (1990), directed by Jim Abrahams, written by Karen Leigh Hopkins, with Winona Ryder and Jeff Daniels

Who wasn’t in love with Winona Ryder in the late 1980s to early 1990s? Don’t be embarrassed to admit to it. Anyone growing up at the tail end of the 1980s who was ever picked on in school, or felt like they didn’t fit in, or didn’t get invited to all the cool parties or didn’t make the cheerleading squad – anyone who wasn’t a part of the “in crowd” probably identified with Winona Laura Horowitz, or at least the person we got to know through her movies.

  • (Winona Ryder Fun Fact! Winona Ryder got her middle name, “Laura”, from Laura Huxley – the wife of English writer Aldous Huxley, a friend of her mother and father!)

It was in Tim Burton’s 1988 sophomore feature Beetlejuice that we were first introduced to the Winona Ryder we would come to love and adore. Although the Minnesota-born actress made her feature film debut in 1986’s Lucas, it was the series of misunderstood teenagers she portrayed in various films beginning with Lydia in Beetlejuice that won her a devoted fanbase of social outcasts, weirdos, and goth kids.

After Beetlejuice came:

Great Balls of Fire (1989), in which she played Myra Ray Brown, a misunderstood 13-year-old who married her first cousin, rock icon Jerry Lee Lewis.

Heathers (1989), in which she played Veronica, who was both popular and misunderstood – a true paradox.

Edward Scissorhands (1990), in which she reunited with Burton to play Kim, a misunderstood teen who falls for the even more misunderstood Edward (of the scissored appendages).

Ryder was lined up to play The Don’s daughter, Mary Corleone, in The Godfather III, but withdrew from the part – reportedly due to “exhaustion.” (The role went to director Francis Ford Coppola’s daughter Sophia. The performance was panned but Sophia found later success following in her dad’s footsteps as a filmmaker.) Ryder opted instead to play yet another alienated outsider in Mermaids (1990) opposite Cher. Her role in Mermaids was critically acclaimed, as was her role in Edward Scissorhands.

  • (Winona Ryder Fun Fact! Winona has been nominated for two Academy Awards in her career. The first time, a Best Supporting Actress nomination for 1993’s The Age of Innocence. The second came the following year, a Best Actress nomination for Little Women.)

Oh yeah … Ryder would appear in one more role in 1990. It was in perhaps the least popular film in her 1988-1990 filmography and in it, she probably played her most misunderstood character to date.

I must have seen Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael a zillion times on cable in my life. Or maybe I didn’t really see it. Maybe I just saw it listed in the TV Guide and imagined I watched it – it’s certainly got a memorable title. It’s one of those movies. It’s the type of movie that HBO and Showtime would play repeatedly during the daytime hours when no one was supposed to be watching, along with Riding in Cars with Boys. That’s another one of those movies.

I’m sure most of you missed it the first time around, since it was released only briefly into the theaters before being dumped straight to video, where it found a small but dedicated fanbase. How many of you first saw Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael on videotape? Show of hands?

Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael revolves around the town of Clyde, Ohio, and an enigmatic young woman who grew up there, Roxy Carmichael, who had left town 15 years before. Roxy Carmichael is described by the editors of Wikipedia as a “minor movie star,” although her claim to fame is not actually spelled out in the movie – the most that is said is that Roxy was the muse of a pop singer who wrote a song about her and dedicated an album to her.

When the film opens, the town is preparing to welcome home their long-lost daughter, sponsoring a huge ball and declaring the week leading up to her return “Roxy Carmichael Week.” Meanwhile, the rest of the town is leeching off the Roxy phenomenon, giving guided tours of her childhood home and touting their loose connections to her – “Roxy used to buy her favorite candy from my drugstore!” You never really get the idea that anyone outside of Clyde cares about any of this. It’s a Clyde thing.

Winona Ryder doesn’t play Roxy but Dinky, an adopted teenage girl who believes Roxy might be her biological mother.

  • (Winona Ryder Fun Fact! In real life, Winona’s mother is an author, video producer and editor. Her father is an author, editor, publisher and antique bookseller. Both are European immigrants. Her godfather is LSD guru Timothy Leary.)

Dinky’s a real piece of work, a character comparable to Ally Sheedy’s role in The Breakfast Club. She dresses in all black before it was cool to dress in all black. Her hair’s a mess. It’s insinuated that she smells, probably due to pigs and dogs and goats that she takes care of at an animal sanctuary – unbeknownst to anyone in town. Dinky’s animal farm is located at an abandoned boat by a creek outside of town – her own Dinky’s Ark. The maternal role she plays for her animals is likely an extension of her own lack of “real” parents. Dinky’s adopted parents don’t understand her. Nobody does. Poor Dinky.

There’s not a whole lot I can say about this movie. It starts out promising enough. The premise is kind of weird, but that’s not the issue. I’m willing to go with it.

The problem is that it never really goes anywhere. Making matters worse, Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael is another one of these bi-polar films that can’t decide what it wants to be. There are some scenes that are very well acted by both Ryder and Daniels – who plays a man that may or may not be Dinky’s father. The unfortunate thing is that the characters portrayed by Ryder and Daniels seem to be the only ones with any sort of dimension. The rest of the town is pretty much a caricature and that, on top of the implausibility of the Roxy Carmichael myth, it’s hard to take anything going on seriously. You have to have a ridiculously huge suspension of disbelief – the kind that, say, a high school kid might have. Which is to say it’s no surprise some of us enjoyed this as teens.

You’re all grown up now and, no, it’s not as good as you remember it. Also, the soundtrack by Melissa Etheridge is atrocious.

On a side note, Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael is directed by Jim Abrahams. Abrahams is responsible for the guilty pleasures of Hot Shots and its sequel Hot Shots: Part Deux, as well as his collaborations with David and Jerry Zucker which include the comedy classics Airplane! and The Naked Gun. Here’s hoping he’ll stick to what he’s good at in the future. With the steady stream of crap that passes for film parody nowadays (Date Movie, Superhero Movie, and countless others), I think that what the world needs now is a new Hot Shots movie – and I hear Charlie Sheen might have some free time in the future. Let’s make it happen.

  • (Winona Ryder Fun Fact! When Winona Ryder was in high school she looked like this.)

Other movies shot in Ohio: A Christmas Story, Eight Men Out, The Oh in Ohio, Happy Gilmore, Teachers, Fresh Horses, and The Shawshank Redemption (parts of it were shot at the Mansfield State Penitentiary)

Next week: A guest column by Chris of The Gross Yields on Ooooooklahoma!


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