“Cyrano” is a story we all know – whether we actually know it or not.
It’s been told as the traditional play of Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac, or adapted into films like Steve Martin’s “Roxanne.” Its themes are dramatic and Shakespearian, giving room for many creative interpretations, but with every adaptation, there is always the same lead character: Cyrano, usually coming with a grotesquely large nose.
In director Joe Wright’s musical “Cyrano,” instead of a facial deformity, it is the physical stature of star Peter Dinklage that’s used as the impetus of Cyrano de Bergerac’s shame and fear of sharing his feelings with the woman he loves. It is the story of a man, hopelessly in love and too proud to admit that he is worthy of it.
Beyond its gripping, age-old story, “Cyrano” delivers beautiful music. Brothers Bryce and Aaron Dessner, of the indie rock group The National, composed a fantastic score and some memorable songs to sing for years to come.
Written by Dinklage’s real-life partner, Erica Schmidt, the film was originally penned as a stage play in which Dinklage played the lead role. Schmidt’s intimate understanding of her partner undoubtedly led to such a viscerally heartbreaking role, and the results speak for themselves: Peter Dinklage gives the performance of his career.
The grief and longing that Dinklage portrays in this film are haunting. Cyrano is a poet and a wordsmith, relying on wit and banter to get by socially, but there is a much deeper pain that is always present. Pain from the words of everyone around him about his dwarfism, as well as his pain of never being with his true love.
The woman of his affection, Roxanne, played to perfection by Haley Bennet, is an equal sparring partner for both his wit and his singing. Roxanne is vain and spoiled, but longs to be loved deeply by someone who understands her. Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), another man fighting for Roxanne’s heart, has found her interest with his handsome features, but he has been bred for war and not love. He has no way with words or romance. Through Christian, Cyrano is able to write letters to Roxanne, leading to a complicated love triangle.
It’s difficult to depict true, deep, romantic love on film. It’s something that must be felt to truly understand, and Dinklage and Wright have made us feel it. With the emotionally stirring songs and Dinklage’s masterclass in acting, all the pain and deep love are unmistakably felt.
Wright has assembled a truly unique vision, particularly in the cinematography and the choreography, all of which works together to emphasize the themes of love and longing throughout the film.
Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey gets creative with his lighting techniques to help shape the musical numbers and really help set the tone. This is a great example where craft and technique strengthen the songs rather than distract.
Aside from the amazing soundtrack, the choreography really stands out, as it often mirrors the emotions of the performers singing. From the moody “What I Deserve,” sung by Ben Mendelsohn’s De Guiche, while cloaked and walking through shadows, or Christian’s rendition of “Someone To Say,” a song bursting with his love for Roxanne that shows his whole garrison of soldiers dancing alongside him, the emotions are truly felt. The subtle beauty of each musical number is marked by letters falling from the sky, or chandeliers rising and falling, or dancers in the background floating away, all of which amplify both the song and the emotions without feeling forced or manipulative.
The chemistry of the two leads and the memorable songs from Harrison Jr. and Mendelsohn make “Cyrano” one of the rare musicals where every song hits and every character gets their time to shine.
Peter Dinklage and company have delivered one of the best films of 2021 that will sing and dance its way into your heart. For all the hopeless romantics, bring a box of tissues – this one is for you.
“Cyrano” is now playing in select theaters and releases nationwide January 28, 2022.
Film critic and member of the NCFCA and SEFCA