Cyrano is a Poignant Musical Romance with Plenty of Heart and some Beat
Cyrano screening provided by Universal
“…a poignant musical around one man struggling to express his love”
Joe Wright is a director that seems to love stories that place characters with their backs against the wall, whether that be Winston Churchill at a crossroads in Darkest Hour (2017) or Hanna Heller and her adversaries in Hanna (2011). His latest film, Cyrano (2021), sees him continue down that path in a way that simultaneously echoes his breakout romance film Pride & Prejudice (2005), and for the most part it works as a poignant musical around one man struggling to express his love. However, beyond the colourful and at times infectious musical numbers is a film that often leaves one wanting more in the way of story and character.
The film sees its titular character, Cyrano (played expertly by Peter Dinklage) struggle to confess his love for his friend Roxanne (Haley Bennet) as she expresses interest in another, Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.). With trouble looming in the way of Roxanne’s rich associate-of-sorts De Guiche (Ben Mendelsohn), a war looming, and his feelings still contained, Cyrano begins to write letters for his love interest, disguising them as letters from Christian.
Adapted from Edmond Rostand’s play ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’, Wright’s film takes as much from the Cyrano stage adaptation a few years ago as it does from the play. Erica Schmidt returns to write the screenplay based on her stage musical of the same name from 2018, while Dinklage (who is married to Schmidt) and Bennet both reprise their roles from the musical. Instead of using Cyrano’s signature large nose, Schmidt cast her husband whose smaller stature acts as a substitute for the nose albeit with the same effect, and Wright has evidently taken a likening to the change. In many respects, it feels like a full circle moment with these past elements all coming together in this on-screen adaptation, and for what it’s worth the chemistry between the two leads and the evident adulation for the source material can be felt in the way dialogue and lyrics are delivered.
Where Cyrano stumbles is where similar musicals like Les Miserables (2012) stumbled — the exquisite musical numbers are never really balanced out with the storytelling, leaving the latter feeling quite flat. When I think of other musicals from the past year, the best ones, like In The Heights (2021), always kept a sense of forwardness and momentum throughout the whole film. In essence, all of the sequences prior to the musical number itself flowed nicely into the singing and dancing because they were able to compellingly engage at the level of story.
Peter Dinklage in Cyrano
In Cyrano, these moments of character interaction play out like an ends rather than a means, often undercut by overzealous poetic dialogue that is far too cumbersome when all you really want is more grounded, assured character interactions. Sure the play itself is of a specific time and the language is inherently the way it is, but when someone like Baz Luhrmann is able to rejuvenate an iconic piece of literature with his audacious, panache storytelling in Romeo + Juliet (1996), it’s hard not to expect more from similar period pieces.
That said, Peter Dinklage injects Cyrano with the signature suave and steadfast attention from his performance as Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones, but it works to a much more poignant and wholesome avail. At times, his character’s attempts to court the glamourous Roxanne through figurative, literary dialogue can become quite tiresome and a bit too cheesy for this critics taste, especially given that colloquial language tends to work better to build a more convincing experience with proof being in the comparatively more contemporary play and its filmic adaptation of the same name, A Streetcar Named Desire (1951).
The set design and costumes are also quite fitting for the aesthetic Wright and his crew are going for, while the cinematography has a certain soap-opera effect that really doesn’t match the rest of the films look. The music itself, written by members of The National, is also fitting save for in one scene towards the films end that felt displaced as three characters prepare to go to war (it borders on some quasi-country tune with quite an unflattering melody).
Being in tune with the way Cyrano is staged from the get-go — be it with the very orchestrated performances or the very overexaggerated moments that come with period piece storytelling — and meshing with its poeticism, is pivotal in order to look past its obvious shortcomings in character interaction and storytelling beyond the musical numbers. While the story and characters do feel like they belong in a stage musical and the dialogue is overly cheesy for those unfamiliar with the source material, Dinklage cashes in his best performance on the big-screen to date.
Cyrano opens nationally from the 24th of February, 2022.
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