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1998-2000 C. Petrovic

Original date of publication: Oct.12,1990
The Washington Post.
No copyright infringement is intended.

By: Hal Hinson

          Whatever one might say about Jim Abrahams's "Welcome Home, 
    Roxy Carmichael," it sure is literary. 

          Brother is it literary. 

          The story centers on the transformation of an eccentric 
    teenager named Dinky (Winona Ryder). It is set during the days 
    before the return of her hometown's one great claim to fame, its 
    one true star: Roxy Carmichael. Roxy is a legend in Clyde, Ohio, 
    though, we come to learn, a legend without portfolio. From the 
    hoopla attending her return, you would think that she was a figure
    of equal stature with Cher or perhaps Elvis; there are even tours 
    of the star's childhood home, complete with the kitchen table and 
    a "typical" Sunday meal. 

          Though perhaps the point of all this is to emphasize just 
    what a nowhere spot Clyde is, it seems excessive considering that
    Roxy's only accomplishment is that she had a hit song written 
    about her. Whatever the circumstances, Clyde is all atwitter over
    Roxy's homecoming; everyone seems to lay some claim to a special 
    relationship with her that each hopes, with some desperation, will
    be renewed by her visit. 

          This is particularly true of Dinky. An adopted child who 
    feels estranged from her parents and the other kids at school, who
    wears only black, never brushes her hair and spends most of her 
    time communing with the menagerie of stray animals she keeps down
    by the river, Dinky is convinced that Roxy is her real mother. And
    the speculation isn't idle. Before Roxy left town, she had a baby
    girl with her boyfriend, Denton (Jeff Daniels), who left the infant
    on the doorstep of a nearby hospital. Certain that she is that 
    abandoned child, and that her mother is coming back to claim her, 
    Dinky prepares to leave. 

          "Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael," which was written by Karen 
    Leigh Hopkins, bears a resemblance in both its broad strokes and its 
    details to a thousand and one bad autobiographical plays dealing 
    with misunderstood teenagers and their agonies. In spirit, it's like 
    secondhand Beth Henley, with all the literary structures poking out 
    through the skin. Though it's clear that the author is drawing 
    directly from her own experiences--she, too, grew up in a small Ohio 
    town--there is no feeling of genuine experience in it. Dinky is a 
    classically alienated teenager, taunted, picked on and without either 
    adult or teenage friends. It's a given, too, that she is exceptional, 
    a rare breed who follows her own path. As she demonstrated in 
    "Beetlejuice," Ryder has a talent for these haunted adolescents. 
    She has a real darkness in her, which she translates easily into 
    comedy, and in some of her scenes here, she's touchingly funny and
    even, on occasion, moving. 

          Where the movie sabotages her, though, is by insisting that all 
    she really wants is to be like everyone else. It provides her with a 
    guidance counselor (Laila Robins) who claims to accept her as she is,
    then says, "Dinky, what if we brushed your hair?"; and a classmate 
    (Thomas Wilson Brown) who's infatuated with her because she's smarter
    than everyone else, but urges her to "take more of an interest" in her 
    appearance. And what it obliquely tells us is that if Dinky were to 
    clean herself up and get a boyfriend, all her problems would vanish. 

          What we want, of course, is for Dinky to remain as singular -- 
    though perhaps not as unhappy -- as she has been. Her antisocial 
    tendencies, her disdain for her parents' lifestyle and the homeroom-
    style superficiality of her classmates are what draw us to her. We 
    like her messy hair and her surliness; we want her intact. We say, 
    let Dinky be Dinky.