by Hope Madden
Filmmaker Joe Wright hits and misses, but always with panache, which is why I look forward to each of his films. His take on Cyrano was especially appealing because Peter Dinklage plays the titular poet, and he never misses.
If your only experience with this material is Steve Martin’s 1987 rom-com Roxanne, prepare yourself. Wright’s reimagining is a musical version of Edmond Rostand’s 19th Century play, with an adaptation courtesy of Dinklage’s wife, Erica Schmidt. And it’s definitely not funny.
Originally, Cyrano de Bergerac was a man with a massive nose. Too ugly for his beloved Roxanne, he agrees to feed brilliant lines to the dim-witted Christian so that he may instead woo the lovely lady.
Molding the tale to fit Dinklage is the film’s greatest accomplishment. The brash, angry romantic has never been so heartbreaking or sympathetic, with every flash of pain, indignation and outrage playing across Dinklage’s face. Plus, he can sing!
Wright’s staging sometimes beguiles, sometimes bores. One musical number boasts intoxicating theatricality, the next resembles a seasonal fragrance ad. Still, the set design is astonishing throughout, and there is no denying this cast.
Haley Bennett’s sumptuous Roxanne cannot help but seduce you, while Ben Mendelsohn’s unseemly De Guiche drips with villainy. Kelvin Harrison Jr. brings sincere tenderness to the role of Christian, and the infamous scene where Cyrano speaks for Christian, winning him the first exquisite kiss, takes on a beautiful tenderness thanks to Harrison Jr.’s chemistry with Dinklage.
Schmidt’s script streamlines wisely enough, but something feels unbalanced in the material. The result is unwieldy and messy, though Wright captures a number of remarkable sequences. Every moment between Cyrano and Roxanne is exquisite, and the balance of the cast wrings emotion from each interaction.
Aside from one, the songs by Aaron and Bryce Dressner of The National are forgettable, and the one that does hit feels contextually tangential—as if they had a great song that had little to do with the story, but they wedged it in, anyway.
This new Cyrano is another hit and miss for Wright, but Peter Dinklage retains his crown as the most endlessly fascinating and watchable actor on the screen. He’s reason enough not to miss this movie.