Cyrano de Bergerac is one of my favorite plays I saw at a local theatre, The Guthrie, a few years ago. Edmond Rostand’s classic romance has been adapted into various format, as well as been the inspiration for many modern rom-coms. But the right filmmaker can make an oft-told story feels fresh and new again, which is the case with what Joe Wright’s done with this musical adaptation.
I’ve lost count how many times I’ve rewatched the trailer of Cyrano since it came out a few months ago. Ask my hubby and he’d tell you how I’m driven to tears every single time I saw that trailer. So when the screening time came, I actually got a bit nervous that the movie would NOT have met my lofty expectations. Thankfully, my fear quickly disappeared within a few minutes of the film.
Set in mid 17th century Paris, we first meet the beautiful Roxanne getting ready for the theatre as she’s been invited by the wealthy Count De Guiche. Her loyal ladies maid Marie constantly reminds Roxanne that she needs to marry a rich man to preserve her social status… ‘children need love, adults need money’ a sentiment the hopeless romantic Roxanne resents. Of course, as luck would have it that very night she falls for a handsome new cadet, Christian.
The whole sequence plays out in a deliberately dreamy, starry-eyed fashion, I was swooning along with them as they’re struck by cupid’s arrow. Wright fully embraces the theatricality of its subject matter, and it’s fitting given that this very project was born out of an off-Broadway play where its stars, Peter Dinklage and Haley Bennett, played Cyrano and Roxanne, respectively. It must’ve been kismet that Dinklage’s own wife Erica Schmidt wrote the play and the the movie’s script, and that Wright and Bennett are also a couple in real life. I’m actually surprised that this is Wright’s first musical, given he has a flair for theatricality. Some plays seem to work best on stage, but the visual splendor of Cyrano is very cinematic that enhances the source material.
The world of theater is integral in the story, as the introduction of the title character takes place during a play. Cyrano sure knows how to make an entrance, especially when portrayed by the intensely charismatic Dinklage. The film immediately shows how Cyrano is perceived by the public. While he’s popular with the crowd, he’s often the subject of bullying, as one character calls him a freak and challenges him to a duel. I actually love the fact that this adaptation forgoes the ‘large nose’ and makes the actor’s achondroplasia (dwarfism) as the reason Cyrano feels self-conscious about declaring his love for Roxanne. Despite being a skilled swordsman and a gifted wordsmith and poet, he doesn’t think that Roxanne can love someone of his stature.
The casting is spot-on all around, which makes the story comes alive beautifully. Bennett, whom I’ve only seen in The Girl on the Train and The Magnificent Seven, is radiant as Roxanne. She and Dinklage have a lovely chemistry as two people who have been friends for years. The moment where she finally reveals to Cyrano of her love for Christian is an emotional one. My heart breaks for Cyrano when he realizes his dear friend is in love with someone else. In the balcony scene in particular, as he hides in the shadows to provide the voice for Christian, the pain in Cyrano’s face is almost too much to bear. I knew Dinklage is a versatile actor who often elevates every project he’s in, but I’ve never seen him in a romantic role before. Let’s just say he takes my breath away as Cyrano… the way he longs for Roxanne is mesmerizing and heart-wrenching.
This is a movie where love hurts and the characters feel unworthy of love… something that is as relatable in this day and age as it had been hundreds of years ago. The lovey dovey romance is balanced by wit and humor, such as the time Cyrano first meets Christian and later make a pact to woo Roxanne together. Kelvin Harrison Jr. is perfect as the vigorous and spirited Christian, definitely has all the makings of a heartthrob yet still has a certain innocence about him. The three makes a pretty romantic and also funny love triangle. Even Monica Dolan as Marie has some memorably humorous moments, and so does the always watchable Ben Mendelsohn as the primary antagonist De Guiche. He’s not on screen much but certainly makes an impact as the deliciously vile count who wants Roxanne and wants her to cut her ties with Cyrano. He also gets to sing in a beautifully-shot night sequence through the streets of Paris.
A key ingredient that makes a good musical is obviously the music. Written by Aaron Dessner and Bryce Dessner from the rock band The National, the songs are deeply romantic but some have a rock ’n roll sensibility. I remember falling in love with the song played in the trailer, Someone To Say, sung beautifully by Roxanne in the opening sequence. Well lucky me, that song is sung again by Christian is a stunningly-choreographed sequence where soldiers are practicing sword fighting and dancing together in unison. Yes it’s camp but also sumptuous and classy at the same time.
I didn’t realize this until I watched a featurette of the film, but apparently the songs were recorded live on set. It works wonderfully as the songs also serve to tell the story, as most of Cyrano’s long speeches are expressed through songs. All the actors do their own singing here, which isn’t always the case in some musicals, and I think they all did a terrific job. Bennett and Harrison both have powerful, Broadway-quality voice, while Dinklage gives a soulful performance with his low, deep voice that’s genuinely moving. The one song that got me sobbing is actually not a romantic one. Wherever I Fall is sang by three soldiers as they’re about to go to battle, and I noticed one of the actors is Glen Hansard who won an Oscar for his song in the Irish musical ONCE.
Joe Wright has made some gorgeous films… Atonement, Pride & Prejudice, Hanna, Anna Karenina … but I think he’s outdone himself here. It’s another fruitful collaboration with DP Seamus McGarvey, nearly every frame is stunning and looks otherworldly. Filmed on location in a Baroque town in Sicily, the town itself is a character in itself. The production design by Sarah Greenwood gives a fairy-tale vibe to this fantasy romance. As a story that celebrates words and literature, there’s plenty of scenes of papers flying everywhere, raining over the characters as they read/write letters or running to deliver one. There’s been a rise in musical adaptations lately, but most of them have been quite set in contemporary setting. As a fan of period pieces, I love the world of Cyrano that immediately looks and feels romantic.
I absolutely adore Cyrano… it’s pure cinematic escapism that’s exquisite in every sense of the word. It’s been a week since I saw it and it’s definitely my favorite recent musicals to date and easily one of my favorite movies of the year. It’s a bummer that it only got one Oscar nomination (for Costume Design), as Wright and Dinklage certainly deserve more love.
Like the characters, the film isn’t afraid to wear its heart on its sleeve. In an age where there are so many dark, sinister films out there, it’s refreshing to see an unabashed love story presented so beautifully. I’m excited to see Cyrano again on the big screen this weekend, it’s a film that needs to be seen in as big a screen as possible. For sure I will buy a digital copy of it once it’s available so I can watch it again and again.
Have you seen CYRANO? Let me know what you think!
14 thoughts on “FlixChatter Review: CYRANO (2022)”
I’m not sure about seeing this as Joe Wright has been hit/miss in recent years but I do like Haley Bennett as I think she’s amazing as I would suggest watching Swallow as she’s just great in that film.
I’ve been wanting to see SWALLOW, hopefully it’s streaming somewhere. Haley is great here but the reason to see it is Peter Dinklage’s mesmerizing performance and the stunning visuals.
Another movie I had know idea about until I saw your review of it here. I’m so out of the loop when it comes to smaller films like these. Not sure if it’s something I’d watch but I’m a fan of Peter Dinklage. He’s great as Trask in Days of Future Past and of course Terri Lannister in Game of Thrones.
He’s done so many great roles. There are some swashbuckling scenes here that I’m sure fans of Lannister in GoT would appreciate.
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