CYRANO: 4 STARS. “probably the history’s most case of catfishing.”
The story of French army soldiers Cyrano de Bergerac and Christian and the beautiful Roxanne is probably the history’s most case of catfishing. Written as a play in 1897 by Edmond Rostand, the love story of “Cyrano” has been reimagined as a musical by director Joe Wright.
When we first meet Roxanne (Haley Bennett), she is prepping for a date with Duke De Guiche (Ben Mendelsohn). She’s not enthusiastic; she’s holding out for real love, but the family is broke, and as her nanny says, “Children need love. Adults need money.”
What she doesn’t know is that her lifelong friend, King’s Guard swordsman Cyrano (Peter Dinklage), a little person with a larger-than-life personality, has been in love with her since the first time he laid eyes on her. “Even her imperfections are perfect,” he says to his best friend Le Bret (Bashir Salahuddin).
He has never told her—“My fate is to love her from afar,” he says—and may not get the chance to once she gets an eyeful of King’s Guard recruit Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr) and falls instantly in love.
Trouble is, Christian has no idea how to speak to her. For that, he turns to the brilliant and eloquent Cyrano to be his voice. Cyrano provides the words of love for Christian to woo Roxanne. He pens letters, provides lists of conversational witticisms and even literally provides Christian’s voice in the story’s famous balcony scene. Roxanne is utterly smitten with Christian, thinking he has the body of a warrior and the soul of a poet. “Every day I think can’t love him more,” she says, “then another letter arrives and my heart expands to love him more.”
It’s a bizarre love triangle, one that seems destined to leave Cyrano heartsick and alone.
“Cyrano” is an adaptation of the original Rostand play and the Off-Broadway musical by Bryce and Aaron Dessner of The National, with lyrics by Matt Berninger and Carin Besser. Director Wright dovetails the two expertly, creating a film that pays tribute to its 124-year-old roots and the modern adaptation.
The bones of the story are intact but the presentation feels fresh. Wright is a stylist, creating the 17th century setting in a swirl of camera movement, interesting settings and sumptuous costumes. His trademarked baroque style has been dialed back from the (admitted beautiful) excesses of “Anna Karenina” and “Pan,” but his visions are as memorable as ever. One sequence, where Cyrano dispatches ten adversaries, is a startling bit of uncut camera choreography that will make your eyeballs dance.
The director weaves the music into the dialogue sequences seamlessly, avoiding the abrupt song-and-dance reality-breakers of so many musicals. The actors don’t suddenly start high-stepping either. It’s a more naturalistic approach that focusses attention, for better and for worse, on the emotion of the songs. As much as I liked many of the tunes, the lyrical quality varies, from the eloquent to the elementary.
Dinklage stretches his wings here as the romantic lead, the comedian and warrior. Cyrano is an outsider with a big heart who has resigned himself to being a background player in love. It’s a wonderful performance, made all the more poignant in the film’s closing minutes (NO SPOILERS HERE!).
“Cyrano” is a deeply romantic movie, a musical and a testament to the importance of real human connections, rendered in high style but always with a real, beating heart.