Cyrano (2021)

An absolutely gorgeous film that is wasting away without an audience. Somehow, the studio has managed to botch the release of this film, and instead of having a solid adult hit, they have a shiny disappointment that someone should lose a job over.  “Cyrano” is a musical update of a classic tale with a variation on the main character that is reasonable and allows an actor who might otherwise never have had the opportunity, to take on a great role.

The film is based on a stage musical by Erica Schmidt, who is the screenwriter for this film. I found some reviews of this Off-Broadway version of the musical, but I did not see any information about it’s success other than it was nominated for some stage awards. The one thing that is noteworthy is that the star has been transferred to the film, so we get the chance to see Peter Dinklage in a role that he originated.  None of the other stage actors mentioned in the New York reviews, made it into the film, but Haley Bennett , supposedly did play the part on stage, and the rest of the film casting is quite excellent. The parts all require some ability to sing and most of the cast acquit themselves admirably. Dinklage as Cyrano performs the songs in a low register and narrow range, much of his singing reminded me of Rex Harrison talk singing in “My Fair Lady“. He is effective but it is not the musical moments that make him shine in the part. 

For most people familiar with the play, Cyrano de Bergerac, it is the language of the poetry that is memorable and makes us care about the character. That largely survives with one disappointing exception. The duel that contains Cyrano’s witticisms about his opponent and even himself is lost in a musical presentation that surprisingly diminishes the moment instead of enhancing it. The duel itself is effectively staged and the resolution is dramatic and gives Cyrano a bit more cryptic personality, although he does quickly return to the arrogance that he started off with.  Dinklage is affecting in the dramatic moments and his winsome longing for Roxanne is best seen in the moments leading up to her request that he befriend Christian and protect him, you see he thought briefly she might truly have seen that he was in love with her and she returned the favor, but the false assumption comes crashing down on his face and it is a moment of sublime performance from our lead. 

Set in France, but largely filmed in ancient towns in Sicily, the environment feels completely appropriate for a time period before the Revolution. The production design is detailed without being overly opulent, but there are several elaborate scenes that will take your breath away. I was particularly impressed with the opening sequence set in a theater, with a rowdy crowd, a claustrophobic stage, and authentic costuming and make up for all the extras. There are several dance moments in the movie that are also elaborately staged. I have written before about the ability of Director Joe Wright to manage complex sequences of movement in dance, he did it beautifully in “Pride and Prejudice” and it is also true in this film.  The choreography contains a lot of arm movement that feels like an elaborate pantomime, and I was more distracted by that than intrigued. Because such a style was repeated a couple of times in the course of the film, it also felt less distinctive and more like a crutch.

 Haley Bennett, Kelvin Harrison Jr., and Ben Mendelsohn make up the rest of the cast as Roxanne, Christian and De Guiche respectively. Of the musical sequences they each get, I was surprised that Mendelson’s was the most effective, but that may be because it focuses entirely on his character in that moment. The best number in the film is “Wherever I Fall” which is performed by supporting players in the battle sequence near the end of the film. It was quite dramatic and I noticed that Glen Hansard from “The Commitments” and “Once” was the lead guard performing the number. I find it interesting that unnamed characters get the most effective moment in the film, but it is a tribute to the integrity of the story that no effort was made to force Christian and Cyrano into the musical aspect of the scene. 

This film opened in Los Angeles for an Academy Award qualifying run, but has not been widely available until the end of February. The only nominations it has received are for the costumes, for which the acknowledgement seems deserved. The absence of Dinklage from the nominees seems to be a glaring error in retrospect. Once again, Joe Wright might also have been deserving of some attention, but if Denis Villeneuve was going to be ignored, than this oversite is not a surprise.  The film is available for streaming, but you shold make an effort so see it in a theater, you will be taken by it’s beauty and the shared experience of the film with an audience, will make it more poignant.