Home > Reviews > WELCOME HOME ROXY CARMICHAEL – Thomas Newman

WELCOME HOME ROXY CARMICHAEL – Thomas Newman

THROWBACK THIRTY

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Thomas Newman is the youngest of the ‘composing Newmans’ who were primed to take over the legacy of Alfred, Lionel, and Emil Newman, the three brothers who established a dynasty within Hollywood film music circles during the golden age of the industry. Thomas’s cousin Randy Newman was born in 1943 and scored his first film in 1981; his older brother David Newman was born in 1954, and was already a working violinist and conductor-for-hire prior to him scoring his first film in 1986. Meanwhile Thomas had already worked as an orchestrator for John Williams on Return of the Jedi, and with Stephen Sondheim on Broadway, before scoring his first film – Reckless – in 1984. Thomas quickly established himself as a composer for quirky and hip comedies and genre movies but, for the first half dozen years of his career, very little of his music was released as a soundtrack – he got half an album for Desperately Seeking Susan in 1985, one track on the album for Gung Ho in 1986, two tracks on Jumpin’ Jack Flash the same year, and one cue each on the albums for Light of Day, The Lost Boys, The Great Outdoors, and Cookie. In fact, the very first standalone album of Thomas Newman music – and, as such, where we begin with him – is for this movie, the 1990 comedy-drama Welcome Home Roxy Carmichael.

Welcome Home Roxy Carmichael is directed by Jim Abrahams from a screenplay by Karen Leigh Hopkins, and stars Winona Ryder as Dinky Bossetti, a lonely young girl stuck in a dead-end Ohio town; abandoned as a child and raised by foster parents, Dinky feels like an outsider, and as a way to cope with her life she has cultivated an obsession with Roxy Carmichael, a Hollywood actress and by far the most famous person ever to be born in – and escape from – their mutual hometown. When news of the fact that Roxy is coming home to visit, Dinky takes her fantasy even further, imagining that Roxy is her long-lost real mother, and as the date for Roxy’s return draws nearer, Dinky becomes more and more desperate to prove it. The film co-stars Jeff Daniels, Laila Robins, Frances Fisher, and is a portrait of teenage angst and alienation dressed up as a quirky comedy.

Whereas most of Thomas Newman’s scores prior to this tended to be sort of pop/rock keyboard-based synth music, Welcome Home Roxy Carmichael was one of the first times that he was let loose with an orchestra. It’s actually quite fascinating to hear how so many of the now-familiar Thomas Newman stylistics are present, even at this early stage in his career. The film itself has some topical similarities to American Beauty, which inspired a seminal Thomas Newman score, and in many ways this score could be described as something of a dry run, nine years earlier. All the touches are there: the lush strings, the lilting and darting woodwinds, the dainty prancing rhythmic ideas, and many of the idiosyncratic twinkling orchestrations that are now so familiar to fans of his music.

The main theme, as presented in the first cue “In a Closet,” is lovely – delicate and pretty and dreamy but just a little wistful – and every time the score returns to it, in later cues like “Refrigerator Shrine,” the piano-centric “Choke It,” the elegant “Baby Soup,” and “This Was My Intention,” it is welcome. “Refrigerator Shrine” is also notable for its poignant saxophone solo, and the extended variations on the theme, making it one of the standout cues on the album. The recurring idea heard in these cues plays very much like the bookend cues of American Beauty, offering a look behind the suburban white picket fences, but whereas in American Beauty we found sexual frustration and anger and recrimination, in Welcome Home Roxy Carmichael we find a forlorn young girl yearning for love and acceptance.

Cues like “Little Black Bird,” “Wake Up,” “Cleveland,” the evocative (but short) “In a Beauty Parlor,” and the conclusive “In a Small Town” revisit the pop-rock sound that Newman was much more famous for at the time; keyboards, guitars and drums performing a series of upbeat, funky, and fun instrumentals. On the other hand, cues like “Hers Are Nicest,” the more urgent “Missing Bossetti Child,” “Several Letters,” the peppy “Arriving by Aeroplane,” and “G. on a Bike” use keyboards and light electronic tones alongside various metallic percussion items to convey the more day-to-day tedium of Dinky’s life, comparing herself to other girls and wishing she could be accepted, coupled with her excitement at Roxy’s impending arrival.

The theme for “Clyde,” and it’s recapitulation in “Her Majesty’s Dress,” is a playful and busy woodwind motif representing the idiosyncrasies of the town itself, whereas “Her Limousine” – ‘her’ being Roxy – is offered a touch of Hollywood sheen and glamor which matches Dinky’s romanticized vision of the actress and her potential life. And then the whole thing is over – just over half an hour of undemanding pleasantry, but little else.

In addition to the score, singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge wrote and performed two popular original songs for the film – “Don’t Look At Me” and “In Roxy’s Eyes (I Will Never Be the Same)”. Although neither is included on the soundtrack album, and while the former has never been released, the latter is included on her 1993 album ‘Yes I Am’.

In many ways Welcome Home Roxy Carmichael is something of an inconsequential score in the bigger scheme of Thomas Newman’s career. It doesn’t have an especially memorable main theme, nor does it reach any great heights of soaring beauty or rich drama. In fact, were it not for the fact that this film was the first one to give Thomas Newman a standalone score album, Welcome Home Roxy Carmichael would be easy to skip over altogether, especially considering that his next film of any significance would be the career-launching Fried Green Tomatoes in 1991. However, as I wrote on other reviews, one of my favorite things about the Throwback Thirty series is the opportunity it gives me to take a look back at the very beginnings of certain composers’ careers, and examine how they started and where they came from – and, for better or worse, for Thomas Newman that was basically Welcome Home Roxy Carmichael. As such, the score comes with a recommendation to Newman fans as a curio, for anyone wanting to see where it all began.

Buy the Welcome Home Roxy Carmichael soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • In a Closet (1:45)
  • Little Black Bird (1:23)
  • Hers Are Nicest (1:10)
  • Refrigerator Shrine (2:37)
  • Missing Bossetti Child (0:56)
  • Wake Up (1:27)
  • Clyde (1:45)
  • Her Limousine (1:57)
  • Several Letters (1:13)
  • Choke It (2:18)
  • Arriving by Aeroplane (0:57)
  • Cleveland (1:13)
  • Yours Are Nice (0:14)
  • Baby Soup (2:57)
  • In a Beauty Parlor (0:36)
  • G. on a Bike (1:06)
  • Her Majesty’s Dress (1:23)
  • This Was My Intention (2:30)
  • In a Small Town (1:33)

Running Time: 29 minutes 00 seconds

Varese Sarabande VSD-5300 (1990)

Music composed and conducted by Thomas Newman. Orchestrations by Thomas Pasatieri. Recorded and mixed by John Virgran. Edited by Bill Bernstein. Album produced by Thomas Newman.

  1. K...
    October 11, 2020 at 10:08 pm

    I think Less Than Zero was his first time working with an orchestra and that was in the late 80s.

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