Cyrano Review: Dinklage is exceptional, but the music is lacking

Despite an assured, nuanced performance from Dinklage, Cyrano falls down from horrendously forgettable, lumbering songs

Starring Peter Dinklage, Haley Bennett, Kelvin Harrison Jr., and Ben Mendelsohn

With glorious vistas and an exquisite central performance by Peter Dinklage, Cyrano should be majestic and epic, but it unfortunately falls short of the mark. Though director Joe Wright was leaned heavily into the dreamlike tone of the music by The National’s Bryce and Aaron Dessner, with beautiful, entrancing choreography by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, this sense of drowsy lethargy seeps into the audience’s experience.

Looking at the plot of Cyrano de Bergerac – in turn based on the real Cyrano de Bergerac – which is the basis for this musical adaptation, one may wonder why it hasn’t been made into a musical, so strong is the depth of epic, tortured feeling contained within. However, there have been many attempts at making Cyrano de Bergerac into a musical, none of which have especially been successful.

Cyrano (Peter Dinklage) – the definition of panache (no, literally) – dwarves others around him with his fierce wit, his unfathomable courage and skill with a sword. It only stands to reason, therefore, that he must have at least one flaw. This film version eschews with the traditional physical deformity of a comically large nose and instead has Dinklage’s Cyrano convinced of his own lack of appeal on account of his dwarfism.

Despite his many positive qualities, Cyrano has been defined by his physical form his entire life. On the day that he finally plucks up the courage to tell his childhood friend Roxanne (Haley Bennett) that he is in love with her, however, she reveals that she has become besotted with a handsome stranger, Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.). Desperate to feel something, she wishes for Christian to write to her of his affection, but Christian himself is unable to express himself in words, paving the way for Cyrano to aid him, vicariously loving Roxanne from a distance, deeming himself unworthy of her.

Adapted from Erica Schmidt’s 2018 stage version, both Dinklage and Bennett are reprising their roles. Dinklage in particular finds wonderful levels of depth within Cyrano and turns in a performance that is dripping with pathos and nuance. Throughout the film, the screen sings with the stunning views that Sicily and its ornate, lavish buildings can offer. However, the music never really matches up with the promised epic story.

While the score is terrifically rendered and orchestrated, none of the songs are especially catchy. Each languishes and drifts, and this isn’t entirely helped by the vocal performances either. Dinklage’s timbre, while rich, is gravelly and monotonous, almost taking away from his emotional heft because of the level of effort that it takes to actively listen to it. Even Bennett, who is a stronger vocalist, comes across badly within these songs.

This is hardly much of a surprise, as the soundtrack sounds a lot like other songs by The National, and is quite similar in tone and energy to Swift’s Evermore and Folklore, which Aaron Dessner produced. While critically lauded, however, neither Evermore or Folklore are especially commercially geared and do not feature many songs that one might consider “catchy”.

The result of this is that the audience is actually removed from the emotion and action instead of the music enhancing what is already present. The one exception to this is perhaps “Wherever I Fall” in which three soldiers – who bear no relevance whatsoever to the plot – played by Glen Hansard, Sam Amidon and Scott Folan, accept their impending deaths on the battle field. Despite the orchestral arrangements being propelling and epic, the songs themselves simply do not match and feel borne along by the instruments instead of driving the action themselves.

There is also the issue of Roxanne. She is designed to be the object of affection by multiple men. Not just Cyrano and Christian, but also the odious De Guiche (Bem Mendelsohn), but she refuses to marry for anything other than love. She should be an independent female icon, and yet she comes across hollow and poorly realised. When she sings “I Need More” after Christian is unable to express his love for her verbally, she seems more demanding than she does in need of satisfaction. She just seems wilfully and recklessly self absorbed, throwing herself from one hedonistic act to the next and it seems strange why Cyrano is so besotted with her despite her looks. That makes the love story itself feel strange, as Roxanne does not seem to be a moral match for Cyrano, even if he loves her.

Additionally, Cyrano suffers from The Mrs. Maisel problem, which is that the audience are consistently told that he is fiercely intelligent, and yet this isn’t necessarily observed. While he comes up with a few witty lines, by modern standards he doesn’t appear all that clever, merely surrounded by people who are less educated.

Ultimately, Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac‘s epic tale of pride, love and hope is somewhat neutered by this iteration. Even though Dinklage turns in a career best, the film simply does not match the epic scope that its trailer made it appear to be and that it easily could have been with a score that matched the overall creative vision, but ultimately the wistful, dreamy musical numbers do not neatly marry with the poignant, tragic and anguished tale that should lie at its centre.

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