Cyrano feels like a movie meant for a different time, for an audience completely unscathed by cynicism and the hostile nature of our current reality. The notion of love conquering all in cinema has often been a tried and true formula, yet lately it feels as though that’s all but disappeared from the big (and small) screen, replaced by a need to bring everything down to earth, to tease the audience with true love, and then taking it away all in the name of relateability. And yet, Joe Wright’s Cyrano feels like a shot in the arm for a genre that’s taken itself too seriously for too long. It brings back that unrequited love story, that love at first sight love story, that “my heart is so full I could burst” love story. It’s the type of love story that had long since burned out but has now come roaring back in a grand fashion.
Based on the stage musical of the same name by Erica Schmidt, itself based on the 1897 play by Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac, Cyrano tells the tale of the titular hero (Peter Dinklage), an incredibly charismatic soldier and wildly talented poet who has fallen in love with his close friend Roxanne (Haley Bennett). However, because of his appearance, his pride stands in the way of telling her how he really feels. Things become more complicated when the handsome Christian de Neuvillette arrives on the scene and both he and Roxanne fall very much in love the second they lay eyes on each other. The catch is that Christian, unlike Cyrano is a complete stunned mullet when talking to the woman he pines for, and a ruse begins when Cyrano offers to ghost write poetic love letters for Christian, becoming a conduit of love for the two as well as expressing exactly how he feels without the fear of rejection.
Cyrano is completely earnest in its sentiments, and that might be tough for some viewers to swallow. It’s a love story that is completely unabashed with its material, and yet is able to walk an incredibly fine line in such a way that it never falls into eye rolling cliche. Much of that is due to Wright’s direction, himself returning to a genre he knows all too well. If you’ve ever seen Atonement or the 2005 rendition of Pride & Prejudice you know he’s someone with the chops to handle material of this ilk. Approaching the story by Schmidt with a deft touch, he’s able to steer the emotional content in such a way that it never goes overboard with melodrama but never veers into unnecessary cynicism. The approach to the musical numbers are handled similarly. There’s a gentleness to the material, doing away with much of the spectacle of the musical genre, instead gliding and serenading you through each tune.
Cyrano is obviously nothing without its cast, and none shine brighter than Dinklage. Finally able to flex some leading man muscle, not seen since 2018’s I Think We’re Alone Now, Dinklage wears the character of Cyrano like a glove. Having played him before in Schmidt’s stage musical, he knows his way around the world, but translating stage to screen isn’t always successful. Yet here, Dinklage exudes endless charisma and charm, sometimes outshining his those around. Cyrano is the type of man all men want to be, and yet Dinklage avoids coming at the character with heaping machismo, instead tapping into a deep well of wholesome likeability, which in turn makes the sequences in which he trounces large groups of sword wielding thugs after his head all the more bold. He’s flanked by a radiant Haley Bennett and adorably naive Kelvin Harrison Jr, with all three having a wonderfully dynamic triangle of screen chemistry that they make look effortless.
Cyrano is a product of bygone era, made for an audience that needs a bit of warmth in their hearts. It won’t gain the detractors or naysayers of the musical genre, but it will warm the cockles of those looking for an escape from the current woefulness of reality. In short, it’s for those who love love and the hope brought with it.