Friday, February 25, 2022


Opening in theaters this weekend:

Cyrano--There really was a Cyrano de Bergerac in the 1600s; he fought in the Thirty Years War and wrote plays and satires and pioneering works of science fiction. He was a remarkable person, to be sure, but Edmond Rostand's eponymous 1897 play spun his exploits into the realm of the romantic tall tale.

Rostand's legendary version of Cyrano is a lion-hearted man of action with the soul of a poet, hampered from winning the heart of his true love Roxanne only because he can't bring himself to believe that she could accept his grotesquely oversized nose. Instead, he wins her by proxy, hiding in the shadows and feeding his silver-tongued professions of love to the handsome but inarticulate Christian de Neuvillette, then having to endure it as Roxanne falls in love with his front.

It's one of the prototypical masochistic male romantic fantasies, up there with Fitzgerald's Gatsby (strange to think the two works were written less than thirty years apart). Like Gatsby, the premise has a timeless dramatic appeal and is also, when you think about it, exasperatingly adolescent.

For this new version, based on a 2018 stage musical by Erica Schmidt and set in a sun-dappled fairy-tale past (it was shot in Sicily), the title role has been reimagined as a vehicle for the great Peter Dinklage; diminutive stature replaces nasal enormity here. With his reserved, drolly morose line readings and his hangdog handsomeness, Dinklage gives a riveting star turn, registering an intense depth of agony in his eyes without even slightly milking the pathos. The actor's dignified stoicism matches the character's. And he textures the performance by getting across Cyrano's pained, bleak pride at the success of his wooing.

The picture is worth seeing for Dinklage alone, but his isn't the only good work. Joe Wright's direction is deft, Haley Bennett makes a lovely, mirthful Roxanne, and Kelvin Harrison Jr. a serviceable Christian.

Unfortunately, all of this fine, even classic work is in service of a mostly banal and pedestrian script and rambling, rhyme-challenged, deeply unexciting musical numbers. In a story about the power of eloquence to ravish, this droning music and thuddingly flat, colloquial style of language--Roxanne says "okay" at one point--is particularly ruinous.

There's a scene in which Christian recklessly decides to meet Roxanne, unsupported by Cyrano's prompting. Her face quickly clouds over at the guy's imbecilic impromptu attempts at verbal lovemaking, and she launches into a song called "I Need More." I had the same sentiment about the movie.

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