As Patrick Gibbs watched Joe Wright's new musical film adaption, Cyrano, the only feelings he experienced were irritation and confusion.

Film Review: Cyrano

Film Reviews

Director: Joe Wright

Working Title Films
In Theaters 02.25

One of my personal favorite stories is Edmond Rosand’s Cyrano de Bergerac. If done well, it always gets to me emotionally. But as I watched Joe Wright’s new musical film adaption, Cyrano, the only feelings I experienced were irritation and confusion.

Cyrano stars Peter Dinklage of Game of Thrones fame as Cyrano de Bergerac, who is usually portrayed with overly prominent proboscis as the physical abnormality that renders this keen intellect, expert swordsman and sensitive soul chronically single. In Cyrano that concept has been adapted to make our hero a man of physically diminutive stature. He still pines for the affections of the beautiful Roxanne (Haley Bennett, The Magnificent Seven), who has fallen in love with the soldier Christian de Neuvillette (Kelvin Harrison, Jr, Mudbound, The Trial of the Chicago 7). Cyrano, who has never gotten up the courage to tell Roxanne his feelings, is shattered when she tells him of her love for another, realizing that he has been “friend zoned” for life. Cyrano’s love for Roxxane is so deep that her happiness is everything to him, even if it means helping her end up in the arms of another. When Christian proves to be a bit of a dullard when it comes to speaking, Cyrano finds himself offering his skills as a gifted poet to help Christian woo her from afar.

The story of Cryano de Bergerac is a personal favorite that I have a great emotional attachment to, and casting Dinklage in the role is a stroke of genius. The problem here is that the person who had the idea was Erica Schmidt, Dinklage’s wife, who wrote the musical with the rock band The National. Aaron and Bryce Dessner wrote the simple but semi-effective music, while Matt Berninger and Carin Besser provide the—how can I say put this delicately?—godawful lyrics. Roxanne’s opening song, Something to Say, is repeated more than once because it’s the only song that doesn’t sound like it was written for a middle school remedial English assignment using an internet rhyme generator. I often found myself thinking of Christopher Guest’s Waiting For Guffman as these songs played out—not to mention the unintentionally hilarious soldier dance number—but those intentionally amatuer songs were at least catchy tunes. 

Schmidt’s script is also problematic, from occasional anachronistic dialogue to its inability to present Roxanne as anything more than the ultimate negative stereotype of a woman who says she wants a sensitive guy but tosses that out the window for the first oafish hunk she sees. Wright has never been one of my favorite directors, having a gift for staging camera movement but too much tendency toward bizarrely theatrical melodrama for my taste, and while Cyrano isn’t his worst film, it is one of his most lifeless and uninspired.

Dinklage gives a heartfelt and energetic performance, but he can’t sing at all, and Wright can’t decide whether to have him merely speak it or just go for broke and stumble his way through in embarrassing monotone. It’s the musical equivalent of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, wherein whether or not Kevin Costner is trying to do an English accent literally varies from scene to scene. When other stars such as Russell Crowe or even Ryan Gosling did this, at least they were singing great songs badly. Ben Mendelsohn as the villainous De Guiche, fairs even worse musically, throwing himself into his disturbingly rapey showstopper What I Deserve with a tone deaf gusto that would make even Gerard Butler cringe. Cyrano fares best when relying on acting over singing, and the costumes, production design and cinematography are splendid.  Still, as is the case with any musical, the songs eat up a lot of the runtime, and a good deal of the character development is done through song, giving the actors little time to truly shine outside of them.

While I recognize it’s something of a hot take, I found Cyrano to be an ordeal to sit through and ran for the exit the second the credits started to roll. If you want to see a good version of the story, check out The Half of It on Netflix. If you want a musical, West Side Story, Tick, Tick… Boom! or even Sing 2 are better uses of your time. – Patrick Gibbs