This review, aside from the opening paragraph you’re reading, was largely written back in November. It’s not often that I return to a piece almost three months after writing it. However, Cyrano is finally hitting theaters after an utterly bizarre release strategy, so there’s nothing traditional about this. Aside from a qualifying run, the only people outside of some film festivals that have seen this movie are critics. It’s almost as if MGM has been hiding the flick from audiences. What makes it even odder is that the film is largely great. This is the release plan for something bad, not something deserving of more Oscar attention than it received. The fact that this work did not get more Academy Award nominations is directly tied into how much this musical interpretation of the classic story was hidden from the masses. Once you see it, you’ll be as annoyed as I am that it was snubbed so thoroughly.
Cyrano has the distinction of being best musical of the 2021 season. It features quality music, strong acting, and a sense of passion for the material, all while giving it a modern feel, despite period trappings. It’s a tough mix to pull off, but especially during one standout musical number, it all comes together brilliantly. There’s a bit of a hump to get through in the middle, but the entire third act is a complete winner.
This is a musical take on the classic Cyrano de Bergerac. Here, it’s not an elongated nose that creates a barrier for Cyrano de Bergerac (Peter Dinklage), it’s height. A noted wordsmith and soldier, Cyrano is respected by as many as he’s ignored by, but all that matters is his oldest friend Roxanne (Haley Bennett). He’s pined for her for years, but too conscious to put himself out there, he lets pride get the better of him and stays silent. When Roxanne comes to him one day to say she’s in love, his heart soars. However, it takes a tumble when she says it’s with the attractive and good-hearted soldier Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), whom she’s only seen but never spoken to. Convinced that he himself is unworthy, Cyrano helps young Christian woo her and win her heart through love letters that he pens for the young soldier.
As Cyrano helps the two fall deeper in love through his words, Roxanne tries to evade the courtship of the powerful De Guiche (Ben Mendelsohn). When the trio get a one-up on De Guiche, he responds by sending the men into battle. With their lives on the line, will Roxanne ever see either of them again? Plus, will Cyrano ever get over his pride and tell her how he feels, and if so, what would happen?
Peter Dinklage is phenomenal here, delivering a career best turn. The same can be said for Haley Bennett, though Dinklage is the true star. He dazzles as Cyrano, allowing us to see his foolish pride equally alongside his winning charm and verbosity. It’s, for my money, the definitive interpretation of the character. Bennett makes Roxanne vibrant and strong, never once feeling like a simple damsel. The same goes for Kelvin Harrison Jr. and his way of making sure Christian is simple, but never a simpleton. All three showcase a good heart that leads the way. Supporting players, in addition to a scenery chewing but very fun Ben Mendelsohn, include Monica Dolan, Glen Hansard, Joshua James, Bashir Salahuddin, Ruth Sheen, and more.
Director Joe Wright manages to make this intimate in a way that never feels cheap. The film may be calling out for an epic feel, but Wright sees the emotions in Erica Schmidt‘s screenplay (adapting her own stage musical). Together, they get to the heart of the matter, though don’t be fooled, Wright still has some killer visuals here. The visual palate is fully compelling, courtesy of cinematographer Seamus McGarvey. The true star, however, are the songs, largely written by The National‘s Aaron Dessner and Bryce Dessner. The composed the simple yet effective score, while co-writing the tunes. By far, the best number is “Wherever I Fall” in the third act, but all of the numbers pair well with each other.
Cyrano is going to surprise a lot of folks now that it’s finally coming out. Not only is it vibrant when it could have been dry, it’s so good that it’s the best version of the story so far. It firmly places Cyrano de Bergerac alongside other classic love stories of our time. Plus, this film now has the distinction of being one of the titles that most deserved more awards attention. This movie should have been cited far more by Oscar. Alas. At least now you’ll, at long last, be able to enjoy it for yourself.