2021, PG-13, 124 min. Directed by Joe Wright. Starring Peter Dinklage, Haley Bennett, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Ben Mendelsohn, Bashir Salahuddin, Monica Dolan.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Feb. 25, 2022
Long before “catfishing” and “throuples” entered the common vernacular, Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac was teasing drama out of the ideas. His play dates back to 1897, and the action starts in 1640, but the story – two guys, one girl, much deceit – is eternally contemporary. Sometimes gigglingly so in the hands of ever-erratic Joe Wright (Anna Karenina, Atonement, Pan), who injects horny, corny musical theatre-kid energy into this latest iteration of Rostand’s doomed love triangle.
The closer source material for the film is Erica Schmidt’s 2018 stage play of the same name, which follows Rostand’s outline. A legendary wit and swordsman, French cadet Cyrano (played by Dinklage, who originated the role onstage) is swooningly in love with the noblewoman Roxane (Bennett). But Cyrano’s pride won’t let him declare that love; he is short and fears rejection. (In Rostand’s original imagining, Cyrano has an outsized nose.) Roxane herself falls at first sight for Christian (Harrison Jr.), a handsome cadet who by comparison is dull and inarticulate in person. And so Cyrano steps in to supply the tongue-tied Christian words for the wooing, and Roxane unknowingly falls for one man’s face and another man’s soul.
There’s much to like in this singular production – singular in that it’s something of a romping melodrama, and it’s not like we’re drowning in those. The cast is game. Harrison Jr. – the best singer of the lead trio – sweetens the less-rounded role of Christian with a puppyish charm. Bennett plays Roxane as modern and blowsy and so high-spirited she’s able to catch the wave of Wright’s habitual tilt toward cheesiness and not be drowned by it. (Kudos to Bennett for surviving a scene where she basically climaxes while reading a letter.) And Dinklage, rocking a very sexy mop of curls, puts to good use those forlorn eyes: This is a deeply soulful Cyrano.
Can he carry a tune? Well … sure. Dinklage leans heavily on the half-singing, half-speaking stylings of Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave, and – most especially – Matt Berninger of the National. The latter wrote the musical’s lyrics along with Carin Besser, while Berninger’s bandmates Aaron and Bryce Dessner composed the score. But qualities the band works to its favor – resistance to radio-friendly hooks, a mesmerizing, midtempo repetitiveness – translate poorly to the musical. Their sad lullaby thing just sounds sleepy in the mouths of these desperate lovers, and the lyrics list toward banality. The single standout song (“Wherever I Fall”) exists outside the main narrative, as three soldiers pen goodbye letters on the eve of battle. Performed by Glen Hansard, Sam Amidon, and Scott Folan, it’s a funeral dirge sung before any bodies hit the floor, and it goosed great, wet tears from me. Alas, the love story, in all its permutations, never inspired the same.