Although based on a stage musical, the big screen version of writer Erica Schmidt‘s “Cyrano” (who also penned the screenplay) would fare better without all of the song and dance. The mediocre tunes and too-simple lyrics (songs by Bryce and Aaron Dessner, with lyrics by Matt Berninger and Carin Besser), coupled with some questionable choreography (especially a cringey scene with dancing bakers and their loaves of bread) are a distraction in an otherwise fresh retelling of Edmond Rostand’s timeless 1897 play.
Set in 17th Century Paris, Cyrano de Bergerac (Peter Dinklage) is a gifted poet serving in the French Army. Convinced that his appearance makes him unworthy of love, Cyrano keeps his love for his beautiful friend Roxanne (Haley Bennett) locked away inside, afraid to declare his admiration and adoration. When the handsome Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) arrives, Roxanne is convinced it is love at first sight. A man of few words, Roxanne’s potential suitor enlists the help of Cyrano to write letters to her on his behalf. It’s one of the literary world’s greatest tragic love stories, and this adaptation is inventive and modern despite its 1700s setting.
The classic story is mostly the same, but Cyrano doesn’t have a large nose. Instead, he is a man who feels limited by his stature. It’s this small tweak that gives the film a greater poignancy, allowing Dinklage’s performance to carry an even greater emotional depth. The casting is terrific, with Bennett and Dinklage reprising their stage roles, and Harrison Jr. has an undeniable chemistry with both of them.
If this was a strictly by-the-book stage adaptation that relied on the intellectual wordplay and wit, it would be even better. There is no need for this film to be a musical. The actors sing themselves, which is part triumph (the outrageously talented Bennett) and part mediocre (Dinkalge, who can just barely carry a tune), but mostly a little bit better than average (Harrison Jr., who is a capable singer). They don’t have much to work with in the lyrics and music department anyway, as the songs are weak and wholly unremarkable.
Director Joe Wright has a style and flair for staging a large scale cinematic musical, a fact which is made evident through the elaborate costumes and set design. The look of this film, coupled with Schmidt’s brisk and brainy script (including moments of verse and rhyming couplets that pay homage to Rostand), will send the literary lovers and theater enthusiasts into fits of delight. In other words, the audience “Cyrano” is made for will adore it.