Directed by Joe Wright.
Starring Peter Dinklage, Haley Bennett, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Ben Mendelsohn, Bashir Salahuddin, and Ray Strachan.
Too self-conscious to woo Roxanne himself, wordsmith Cyrano de Bergerac helps young Christian nab her heart through love letters.
Speaking as a physically disabled person, one of the most frustrating tropes is an individual (man or woman) unable or too self-conscious to pursue love because of the mildest disfigurements that would likely affect no one, especially characters inside a Hollywood or stageplay production. That’s not to say Cyrano can’t stand the test of time telling its 17th-century love triangle while depicting its titular wordsmith with an enlarged nose, but that Erica Schmidt reimagining Edmond Rostand’s beloved play (and writing this version) centered on a dwarf Cyrano is a no-brainer logical update, meaning it’s also no surprise that it has been showered with praise and now has been adapted into a dazzling and shamelessly and infectiously romantic film from Joe Wright. Reprising his role from that musical as Cyrano is Peter Dinklage, who knows how to get into the headspace and express romantic-related insecurities that challenge many others who have a disability. It’s a terrific performance on its own, but again, as a physically disabled person, it’s also one of the most powerful relations to a character I have ever felt.
Cyrano is in love with his longtime friend Roxanne (played by Haley Bennett with more than enough energy and liveliness to match the unabashed melodramatic lovefest tone) but seemingly will always be deathly terrified of confessing those feelings for fear of rejection over his appearance. He is a competent fighter, although what he’s really got going for him is a deep vocabulary and poetic prowess, especially when writing letters. The question then becomes how far words can take someone in romance when love understandably comes from aesthetic preference and sexual attraction in some cases as much as personality. Maybe Roxanne doesn’t care about any of that. To us, it’s evident that she would probably reciprocate his emotions (she is headstrong not to fall for someone for superficial reasons such as wealth). Still, the well of self-deprecation and insecurity is never-ending, rendering Cyrano’s hurt incredibly sympathetic.
Complicating matters, Roxanne also has eyes for a soldier friend of Cyrano, the handsome and well-meaning Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr., capable of everything from drama to singing to the occasional comedic relief) unable to articulate himself verbally or on the page correctly. And if there is one thing Roxanne values from a potential love interest above all else, it’s flattering love letters. As a result, Cyrano makes the tough choice of writing letters for Christian, imbuing them with his own thoughts and soul, effectively wooing her vicariously. Christian has no idea that Cyrano loves Roxanne, so he’s more than willing to go along with the charade. Although, it does bring up the point that at times, it’s hard to believe any of these characters are oblivious to what each other truly think or are doing.
There is also a domineering and possessive Duke (a rather one-dimensional character played with intense jealousy rage by Ben Mendelsohn) determined to marry Roxanne, even if he has to send Cyrano and Christian off to battle, hoping that they meet their demise. While these elements assuredly have their place in the story, such aspects feel as if they work further on the stage. As a film, Cyrano is most engaging when it’s fixated on the inner doubts and a gray area of the hopeless romantic’s questionable actions. There’s a case to be made that, despite some terrific third-act songs, the narrative could be wrapped up tighter and more satisfactory in the second act, although it would take away the tragedy element.
Regardless, the period piece details and production values from Joe Wright are, as always, vividly exquisite and bursting with color. The passionate musical performances might not be as dynamically staged as they could be, embracing theatrical roots. That’s a good idea when Peter Dinklage and Haley Bennett are this emotionally captivating. Cyrano, while flawed, is a lofty achievement for stories centered on characters with disabilities. While I do not necessarily care who gets nominated for Oscars or not, I’m pulling for Peter Dinklage. He is deserving.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com