Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 25, 2022)
Across the years, Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play Cyrano de Bergerac has received umpteen adaptations. Based on a modern stage production, 2021’s Cyrano brings it to the screen again via a musical version.
An orphan now well into adulthood, Roxanne (Haley Bennett) finds herself pressured to marry the wealthy Duke De Guiche (Ben Mendelsohn) for financial reasons. However, the independent and intelligent Roxanne resists this, as she wants true love.
When they lock eyes at a theater, Roxanne and young soldier Christian de Neuvillette (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) find themselves immediately smitten with each other. However, Cyrano de Bergerac (Peter Dinklage) – Roxanne’s friend since childhood - maintains romantic love for her, even though she appears oblivious to his emotions.
After Roxanne declares her interest in Christian, Cyrano feels wounded, but he cares so much for her happiness that he serves to pursue this goal. This means he needs to help transform the semi-hapless Christian into the clever and articulate partner she desires.
We all know how much first impressions matter, and that goes in both positive and negative directions. If you dislike your initial experience with a director, you probably will maintain that disdain for a while, and if you enjoy that filmmaker’s opening volley across your bow, you may continue to cut that artist a break even when you don’t take satisfaction from the material on display.
Director Joe Wright made his feature debut with 2005’s Pride & Prejudice. I expected to dislike the film but found it to offer a bright and engaging adaptation of the Jane Austen classic.
When Wright returned, he did so with 2007’s period drama Atonement. Given my enjoyment of Pride, I hoped for the best with Atonement but found it to provide a largely unsatisfying tale.
Since then, Wright has veered from pretty good to pretty bad, without much consistency on display. Unfortunately, Cyrano finds Wright on the negative side of the ledger, as he creates a mostly unsatisfying exploration of the classic tale.
Because of its roots, it can become more difficult to “assign blame” here. How many of my complaints relate to Rostand’s source, how many come from Erica Schmidt’s stage production and screenplay, and how many stem from Wright’s direction?
In this case, I suspect Schmidt and Wright created the lion’s share of the problems. While Cyrano adheres fairly faithfully to Rostand’s original, my issues don’t connect to those elements.
Instead, the choice to make Cyrano a musical turns into a major issue. For one, the songs just don’t work.
The movie’s tunes feel relentlessly derivative, with melodies that often remind the listener of other works. Even so, they seem wholly forgettable and fail to stick in the viewer’s memory.
The songs can veer into “Lin-Manuel Miranda Wannabe Mode”, but that doesn’t become the biggest issue. The general blandness of the tracks remains the largest concern, as none of these tunes ever feels compelling or engaging.
In addition, Wright shows no talent when it comes to the depiction of production numbers. He stages all these scenes with zero panache or fluidity, so they fall flat on screen.
Given that we get plenty musical scenes, this becomes a real issue. Cyrano tends to grind to a halt for the songs, so they make the flick drag in a major way.
That said, the film’s dramatic sequences don’t go much of anywhere either. Cyrano fails to find the hearts of its characters and presents them as flat and one-dimensional.
Even with a talented cast, none of the roles ever manages to seem memorable or especially engaging. Cyrano wants to provide a deep romance, but it seems so stiff and unconvincing that it fails to pack a punch.
All of this leads to a slow 123 minutes of musical drama. Though it never becomes a poor film, it remains oddly uncompelling and dull.