Of all of Winona Ryder’s late ’80s and early ‘90s film’s, Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael is perhaps most often forgotten.
Of all of Winona Ryder’s late ’80s and early ‘90s film’s, Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael is perhaps most often forgotten, not getting credit for helping to establish her eccentric, weird girl persona. Alongside Heathers and Beetlejuice, two films that see Ryder portray morbid, destructive and rebellious teens, Roxy Carmichael expands her persona with the character of Dinky Bossetti, the town weirdo who is obsessed with Clyde, Ohio’s biggest star, Roxy Carmichael. An interesting take on wanting to feel significant, Karen Leigh Hopkins’ script explores the concepts of celebrity, idolatry and loving the idea of a person rather than the reality. While the script could have used some revision and gets bogged down by too many coming-of-age clichés stuffed into one story, it’s a unique take on a common theme.
Although advertised as a quirky comedy starring the contemporary It Girl, Roxy Carmichael is a campy dark comedy that strikes a sentimental chord more often than not. Dinky (Ryder) is alternately depicted as a budding goth—dying a brand new yellow sweater black—a bum with untamed, unwashed hair and a loner weirdo who only talks to stray dogs (who she feeds and shelters in an abandoned boat). It seems somewhat out of character then for Dinky to be equally if not more obsessed with who has captured the town’s imagination: Roxy Carmichael. As the film unfolds, a picture slowly starts to form in which Dinky feels wholly out of place, unloved and misunderstood. Even though she purposefully acts out to reinforce differences between herself and the likes of high school jock Gerald Howells (Thomas Wilson Brown), she also imagines herself to be a grand person worthy of adoration.
These feelings of neglect crystallize into an obsession not only with Roxy but with being directly connected to her legendary, lush life. Clyde, Ohio maintains Roxy’s childhood home as a museum dedicated to the star’s early days, and Dinky regularly sneaks into the wall-to-wall pink, frilly bedroom and locks herself inside to marvel at the foreign beginnings of this legendary figure. When she discovers that Denton (Jeff Daniels) was once married to Roxy, she mines him for details and personal information about his ex-wife. The revelation that Roxy and Denton had a baby that was abandoned at the hospital makes Dinky absolutely certain that she must have been that baby and will leave Clyde with her true mother once she returns.
For Dinky, Roxy represents someone who successfully left Clyde and made something of herself, not to mention she’s famous. But, tellingly, Dinky has no idea why Roxy is famous. Her claim to fame—being the inspiration for a song—is unimportant, only her persona, the idea of a flawless, famous woman matters. To an extent, Denton suffers from this same fantasy. Roxy has long since left him, he is married with children and yet Roxy’s impending return uncovers feelings he thought were gone. Maybe Roxy will return to Clyde for the first time in 15 years, see her ex and want to pick up right where they left off. It’s delusional, but the idea of a person is frequently even stronger than the reality.
There’s a lot at work here, even for a coming-of-age teen flick. Usually, the focus is on prom or turning 16. Roxy Carmichael approaches the difficult task of embracing who you are and coming into your own self from the very literal, and therefore darker, perspective of an orphaned character who may never know her biological parents. Dreaming of a famous mother swooping in to free her from a dull town is a fantasy that, once squashed, prompts a devastatingly harsh reality check for Dinky. Add to that Hopkins’ commentary on celebrity and the supposed insignificance of a normal life and the film struggles to neatly tie up every plotline. Nonetheless, Roxy Carmichael is a film worth revisiting for its place in Winona Ryder’s filmography and in early ‘90s teen comedies.