Reprising their roles from the stage musical production, Cyrano unites leads Haley Bennett and Peter Dinklage, respectively, to retell an age-old Shakespeare story. Similar material has been adapted countless times—despite this, Cyrano is actually my first-ever exposure to the tale of unrequited love between Cyrano de Bergerac and his devoted, beautiful friend Roxanne. As much as I admire the work of Shakespeare, this dull and depressing musical was simply not the film I was expecting. The choreography specifically is borderline awful, consisting merely of swishy costumes and excessive twirling. The staging and musicality comes across as pedestrian, while the acting performances are strong. What went wrong here?
Powered by garish white makeup and powdered wigs, the gentlemen of Joe Wright’s film are not exactly the most delightful bunch of people. It comes then as little surprise that Roxanne (Haley Bennett) longs for a richer existence than being married off to a duke only for financial sake. Roxanne ultimately craves love above all else, singing about it of course. Christian (Monster and Gully star Kelvin Harrison Jr.) follows Roxanne into a party, and they have a moment gazing at each other from across the room that can only be described as love at first sight. A thief steals Christian’s bag, and he runs off to retrieve his items, but the moment shared between them is one neither will ever forget.
Already two months behind on her rent, Roxanne is urged to let the duke court her despite her growing feelings for Christian. On a night out at the opera, Roxanne’s oldest and dearest friend Cyrano (Dinklage) causes a huge spectacle that results in the death of a snobby rich fool. Cyrano speaks in poetic perfection, his words seamlessly flowing together. He pines for Roxanne (“my sole purpose on this earth”), feeling unworthy of her beauty and grace. As fate would have it, Christian is a new recruit. Roxanne begs Cyrano to give him guidance and—most importantly—to make sure Christian writes to her.
Cyrano sees this as a perfect opportunity. Through the outward appearance of someone far more attractive than he, Cyrano offers his own words to play matchmaker between Roxanne and Christian. Christian loves her deeply yet is no poet, and Cyrano offers the perfect remedy.
This gets weird. Cyrano pretends to be Christian (whom Roxanne notes is “singing an octave higher”) in a darkened alleyway and observes her reaction from afar like a catfishing creep. Cyrano’s adoration for Roxanne borders on obsession. While his words are beautiful, they are hard to connect with emotionally. Lyrical stylings are no better; these characters sing about their thoughts plainly and lay them bare. Beyond the deep sorrow, there is no thrust to anything else in this storyline. I should not randomly get David Cook’s American Idol ballad, “Time of My Life” stuck in my head when walking out of a musical.
The sole exception to monotonous numbers of longing lies in a depressingly dark musical number that brought a tear to my eye, as soldiers belt lyrics about how “heaven is wherever I fall.” It is the emotional high point of the movie, so when things eventually flash forward three years later, there is no satisfying way to become reacquainted to this world. Peter Dinklage and Haley Bennett are as excellent as they surely were during the stage production. One can feel their fleeting relationship, especially in Dinklage’s quiet prose. Cyrano barely allows the audience to enjoy their love, picking up well after Cyrano and Roxanne had a connection. This seems to be an extreme error that creates a coldness about the characters. Bottom line: good acting and set design, bad everything else.
Cyrano implores viewers to open every letter with baited breath when it releases exclusively in theaters on Friday, January 21st.