Musical Romance: Joe Wright’s ‘Cyrano’ Reviewed

by Rachel Bellwoar

Besides the many other film adaptations of Edmond Rostand’s play, Cyrano de Bergerac, that have been done, the premise of someone agreeing to ghost write letters for a friend, when they’re secretly carrying a torch for the same person, isn’t exactly untread ground. The TV show, Sanditon, only recently got through with a similar storyline. Whatever Joe Wright’s Cyrano lacks in originality, though, it makes up for in sweeping emotion.

Cyrano (Peter Dinklage) loves Roxanne (Haley Bennett). He loves her so much (and is so resigned to an unrequited love) that he’s prepared to act as middleman for her budding romance with Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), another guard in his unit.

To Roxanne, Cyrano’s efforts only extend to him arranging times for her and Christian to meet and shielding them from her other suitor, the Duke (Ben Mendelsohn, fulfilling the same role as the Duke in Moulin Rouge). What she doesn’t realize is Cyrano is also the author of Christian’s love letters.

The reason this love triangle ticks is all of its members are flawed. From the start Christian has trepidations about lying to Roxanne and while he agrees to – and ultimately benefits – from Cyrano’s plan, it’s Cyrano who pressures him to stick to it and not try and find his own words. Cyrano, for his part, has low self-esteem while Roxanne’s high expectations (expressed in the song, “I Need More”) are impossible and admirable and unfair, all at the same time.

Poetry is dramatic, and Cyrano captures that overwrought, first love, everything’s on the line energy beautifully. Dinklage’s face alone is a well of hope and pain that’s devastating to look at. The film also celebrates the tactile nature of letter writing and ignores gender stereotypes, by allowing soldiers to be just as tortured with passion.

Cyrano almost makes it to the end without a hitch but fumbles badly with Christian. Instead of seeing the love triangle through, and giving Roxanne final say, Erica Schmidt’s screenplay intervenes. As much as Cyrano’s abilities as a wordsmith are celebrated, Christian’s abilities as a soldier are never equally acknowledged either. He gets one scene, and the song “Someone to Say,” but even that is a reprisal (which is actually super clever on the parts of Bruce Dessner and Aaron Dessner, who wrote the music, and Matt Berninger and Carin Besser, who wrote the lyrics). Cyrano initially says sincerity is enough, but that’s not the lesson Christian learns in this movie.

Bonus feature-wise, Cyrano comes with a making of featurette that could’ve been longer but at least has some insights to offer, including that this isn’t the first time Dinklage and Bennett have played these roles. Cyrano started out as a stage musical, directed and adapted by Schmidt, and it was after seeing it that Wright wanted to do a film adaptation. The interviews make it sounds like a love fest. All of the cast members only have good things to say about each other. There’s also some talk about the filming locations.

For those interested in the film’s decision not to portray Cyrano with a big nose, there’s a great interview Dinklage and Schmidt did for Financial Times that’s worth a read, with Schmidt being quoted as saying, “I wanted to suggest that if it was Peter’s height that you saw as a direct stand-in for the nose, that was what you were seeing.”

Cyrano is available on Blu-Ray from Universal Pictures and comes with a DVD and digital copy.

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