Review by Sean Boelman
The story of Cyrano de Bergerac is right up there with Romeo and Juliet for classic romance tropes that will stand the test of time. And while Joe Wright’s musical retelling of this story, Cyrano, may not reinvent the narrative, it’s an elegant and emotional take on the well-known tale.
The film follows a valiant but self-conscious poet as he helps a handsome but bumbling young man woo the gorgeous woman who is also the love of his life. Erica Schmidt writes the movie from her own stage musical, and while it sticks very closely to the beats everyone knows, the reason that people are still making new versions of this story is that it is so resonant.
Clearly, the film’s main messages are about honor and vanity, and they are just as powerful today as they were centuries ago. Schmidt doesn’t really modernize these themes in any way, keeping the movie firmly in the past rather than trying to tie these events to today’s issues, instead focusing on the universal human emotions.
For most of the film, it’s absolutely absorbing, finding the right balance between the action and the romance. However, in what is an increasingly rare occurrence, this movie is actually about twenty minutes shorter than it should have been. A thirty-minute third act is instead compressed into one ten-minute musical number, making the ending feel abrupt and off-putting.
Schmidt does an excellent job of making the audience feel the right emotions for the characters. We are charmed by and have pity for Cyrano, adore Roxanne, embarrassingly admire Christian, and despise the Count de Guiche. This is one of the most romantic stories ever told, and it still hits just as hard.
The always exceptional Peter Dinklage does some career-best work here, showing a great deal of vulnerability. Although his singing voice isn’t the most polished, it works in this case given the fact that it is meant to be gritty and personal. Haley Bennett sings her heart out as the love interest. And Kelvin Harrison Jr. and Ben Mendelsohn are both great in their supporting roles.
Wright is no stranger to period pieces, and he does an exceptional job with this one. The production design is exquisite, immersing us in the time in which the movie was set. And the choreography is inspired, making the film feel formal but not in a flashy way, allowing it to stand out from a lot of other movie musicals.
Cyrano is an amazing movie, and while it does stumble to a halt with a rushed third act, it’s altogether very lovely. This may just be the unexpected dark horse contender we were waiting to enter the picture this awards season.
Cyrano hits theaters on December 17.