Winona Ryder usually makes a movie better just by her presence. A movie like A Scanner Darkly is great on its own, but Ryder fits right in. Heathers wouldn't be nearly as fun without Ryder. She can't rescue a truly awful movie ... nothing could save Alien Resurrection. But more than once, she has been the best thing about a middling film, like Girl, Interrupted (which, admittedly, had a remarkable cast beyond just Ryder, including Angelina Jolie, who won an Oscar).
Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael is Winona Ryder's movie. Without her, we've got an afternoon special. Perhaps this is no surprise ... Karen Leigh Hopkins, who wrote the screenplay (her first), later was nominated for a Daytime Emmy for a TV movie, What Girls Learn, and still later won a Humanitas Prize for co-writing a TV movie, Searching for David's Heart. Director Jim Abrahams is more surprising ... once the "A" in ZAZ (Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker, who gave us Airplane!, Police Squad!, and the great Top Secret!). Roxy might seem a departure, even a career change, but Abrahams next two films as director were Hot Shots! and Hot Shots! Part Deux. So let's just say Roxy Carmichael was an anomaly in the career of Abrahams.
The movie really does have a stock after school special setup. Winona plays Dinky Bossetti, an adopted teenager in the Midwest who is misunderstood by everyone. She finds a confidant in a school guidance counselor played by Laila Robins, which leads to the following scene, where the counselor responds to Dinky's outpouring about herself by suggesting, "What do you say we comb your hair?" (Shades of Molly Ringwald giving Ally Sheedy a makeover in The Breakfast Club.)
It's the reversal of what happens to Ryder's character in Heathers ... she starts out looking clean-cut, but ends the movie like this:
Of course, there's something resembling a happy ending in Roxy Carmichael, as Dinky (and her new boyfriend) learns to accept herself.
Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael isn't as awful as my description suggests. The small-town setting walks a proper tightrope between real and parody, the cast is fine, the movie is over in 95 minutes. And Winona Ryder makes every scene she is in worthwhile (and she is in almost every scene). But the movie hits some of the wrong buttons for me ... I have certain emotional requirements when it comes to rebellious teenagers, and they don't involve combing the heroine's hair. My recommendation is to watch Heathers again. Or, if you want to revisit the heyday of ZAZ, watch Top Secret!.