Cyrano (2021)

JOE WRIGHT

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB

//USA, 2021. , , , . Screenplay by , based on her stage musical adapted from the play Cyrano de Bergerac by . Cinematography by . Produced by , , . Music by , . Production Design by . Costume Design by , . Film Editing by .

Edmond Rostand’s eternally beloved play, based loosely on the real-life seventeenth century author, lover and fighter Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac, has inspired countless productions on stage and screen, in cinematic terms most famously embodied by Jose Ferrer in his Oscar-winning performance in 1950 and, forty years later, by Gerard Depardieu in one of the most elegantly poetic romance films ever made. Erica Schmidt’s 2018 stage musical adaptation has been turned into the latest big screen rendering of the story, with the tale of thwarted, clandestine love now expressed through the odd song that pops up when emotions run too high.

plays the lead character, famed in his world for his duelling skills with both a sword and his tongue, first encountered by the audience chasing a hammy actor off a stage to the delight of a theatre audience that includes his dear beautiful friend Roxanne () and the freshly recruited soldier Christian de Neuvillette ().

Roxanne confides in Cyrano that she feels love at first sight for Christian and, despite the fact that this destroys his hopes at ever winning his heart, Cyrano agrees to act as go-between and let the young man know of the lovely lady’s instant infatuation. Christian responds favourably but is nervous, knowing Roxanne to be a lover of potent words and knowing himself to be as inarticulate as he is handsome. Cyrano steps in and supplies the wooing material, first writing letters on Christian’s behalf and then later feeding him lines beneath her balcony, sending the young woman into rapturous passions that, conveniently, also help save her from a financially motivated marriage to a much older and very aggressive Duke ().

Schmidt’s adaptation does not veer from the main action of the play at all, so if you are already familiar with the vale of tears that these turns of plot will eventually give way to, there’s no need to describe the action any further. What’s missing from the experience, though, are those very tears: music is presumably added to restore, partially if not fully, the rhyming couplet scheme of the original play’s dialogue, and in general is put into a dramatic to release the emotional content that cannot be delivered in mere words, but neither happens effectively in a score mostly taken up with Pasek and Paul-ripoffs that sound like modern-day pop songs, sometimes lovely but rarely more than just shallow commentary on the characters’ states of being.

Even worse, the majority of the cast can’t sing them well, Bennett and Harrison aside; Dinklage is a terrible actor who has been mistaken for a great one because of a terrific role on a very successful television series, and between his tone-deaf warbling and wooden dialogue delivery it’s very hard to allow him into our hearts as a tragic romantic figure. His diminutive figure, which replaces the overextended proboscis that is usually the marker of Cyrano’s otherness (to use modern parlance), is supposed to be the basis of his insecurity and his tragically believing that he is unworthy of love, something that Roxanne confirms by loving Christian based on what she sees with her eyes and not what she feels in her heart.

In real life, Dinklage rightfully has no apologies to offer for breaking out of the stereotypical roles that are offered to actors with dwarfism, and brings that energy with him effectively to roles such as Tyrion Lannister and the sadistic mob boss in I Care A Lot, but that pride also makes him the most impenetrable and unsympathetic Cyrano that the screen ever witnessed. The character is supposed to be poignant because he believes he is hopeless, and it touches something in us because we have all felt hopeless in love at some point, but in Dinklage’s portrayal the man is merely frustrated and eventually worn out, and that’s far too little to hang a giant love story on (particularly one that makes you sit through musical numbers while doing so).

There’s one small moment in this film that is wonderful, when we catch up with the boys on a battlefield, where their fortunes in war will determine the end of the story, and are treated to a wholly unnecessary musical number in which the soldiers write home to their loved ones. It includes a brief performance by Oscar-winning Once star and songwriter , the beauty of whose vocals puts you directly in mind of what you’re missing out on with the rest of the experience, his committed, throaty delivery conjuring up the feeling of great musical theatre for a brief moment before we go back to a world of middling talents.

Academy Award Nomination: Best Costume Design

Golden Globe Award Nominations: Best Picture-Musical/Comedy; Best Actor-Musical/Comedy (Peter Dinklage)

 

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