Cyrano de Bergerac is a tremendously successful story. It has existed for 125 years (Edmond Rostand wrote it in 1897) in various forms, from plays to movies, books and television. It is a safe bet that anyone who consumes media (which is basically everybody nowadays) has seen some version of this story or, at the very least, a reference to it.
It is about a man who loves a woman, but fears she will never have him as more than a friend due to his looks. So, instead of confessing his true feelings to her, he assists the handsome man who catches her eye in winning her heart by acting as his voice.
The musical Cyrano is based on an off-Broadway production from 2019 and shares its star, Peter Dinklage. This Cyrano’s issue is not a facial deformity (usually a large nose), but dwarfism. This is a decent adaptation of the material in most ways, except for Dinklage’s performance, which raises it to a higher level.
Peter Dinklage brings a passion to the role that makes it feel personal. His Cyrano is witty, impossibly articulate and full of a pride that serves as his downfall. He has loved the beautiful Roxanne since they were children, yet he keeps this a secret because he is terrified of being rejected by her. The songs, the choreography and the other performances could all have kept this light (it is quite amusing at times). Dinklage shows us Cyrano’s pain, romanticism and heartbreak with such tenderness. He abhors pity and martyrs himself for love. He projects a depth that the movie as a whole can’t live up to and takes it from okay to pretty good.
Cyrano, a soldier and poet, is on the verge of revealing his love to Roxanne when she tells him she has experienced love at first sight with another man. This is Christian, a new soldier in Cyrano’s regiment. Seeing his hope for romance with Roxanne disappear, Cyrano agrees to use his words to help Christian woo her.
No doubt, some of this plot sounds familiar. The path it takes is neither surprising nor particularly original. What makes it sort of its own thing, aside from the emotion of Dinklage’s performance, is the music.
Cyrano (116 minutes, without the end credits) does feel kind of stagey, as though the actors are performing for the cheap seats. However, the production numbers are relatively subdued. There are no complicated dance routines or hundreds of extras. Most of the songs are intimate. One character expresses something musically they aren’t strong enough to express conversationally. None of the actors (also including Haley Bennett as vain Roxanne, Kelvin Harrison Jr. as naïve Christian and Ben Mendelsohn as vile De Guiche) are amazing singers and none of the songs are especially catchy. Neither of those are even necessarily knocks against the movie. What it means is that it comes off more as a character digging into their emotions, rather than putting on a show.
Director Joe Wright doesn’t do anything flashy here. He doesn’t make this about class (though he and first-time screenwriter Erica Schmidt easily could have) or war or social conflict. It is purely about this brilliant man using another to give the woman he loves what he does not believe he ever could. He allows the cast, the solid screenplay and, most of all, the power of the original material to do the majority of the heavy lifting.
Cyrano was nominated for one Oscar, for Best Achievement in Costume Design. The costumes are certainly lovely and fitting for the time and place (17th century France), but what really makes it stand out is Peter Dinklage. He is why this is memorable.
3½ out of 5
Peter Dinklage as Cyrano
Haley Bennett as Roxanne
Kelvin Harrison Jr. as Christian
Ben Mendelsohn as De Guiche
Bashir Salahuddin as Le Bret
Directed by Joe Wright
Written by Erica Schmidt