Cyrano (Review)

Let’s get the positives out of the way. First of all, Peter Dinklage, as you would expect, is very good in Cyrano. What he has to work with is not great, and he hardly has the chance to prove himself as the next musical star, but his obvious skill as a performer works out in the film’s favour. Joe Wright (working with frequent cinematographer Seamus McGarvey) is a competent visualist, and the production design is what you would expect. It all looks fancy and though it lacks originality, visually speaking, it certainly sits handsomely on the screen. Wright is good at fussiness and formality, and this conveys itself well. As a technician, he’s a safe pair of hands, especially for this kind of period picture, and the result is favourable.

This aside, Cyrano just doesn’t really work. It is an adaptation of a stage musical, itself an adaptation of the classic work, and (without experience with the show) it is hard to say whether its failings are unique to the film. As a musical, it feels filmic rather than stagey (a plus point) but it doesn’t feel like a particularly good film musical. The songs are uniformly uninteresting and a few of them are laughable, influenced further by their staging. Haley Bennett’s Roxanne rolling around on a bed in excitement over a letter is notably hilarious (it shouldn’t be, it is framed and edited so as to be ‘sensual’, the result is ridiculous); a late stage number (again about letters) just introduces a bunch of new characters who vaguely sing, in very forced rhymes, about the loved ones they have left behind due to war. The impact of this latter number is supposed to be deeply emotive, the actual resonance is one of confusion. Speaking of confusion, an early number pushes into the Hamiltonification of musicals, so to speak, where Dinklage gets a go at a pseudo rap battle, a style one scene commits to but that the film never returns to (the result being one odd moment). It is also the worst offender for the cringeworthy lyricism: Dinklage verbally sparring while actually sparring (with a sword) is overkill.

But that’s the film: overkill. Perhaps overwrought is better. Everything is dialled way up to the extent that nothing really impacts (a lot of it being accidentally, and inappropriately, funny, including the very final moment). We run at pace through a lot of narrative, with a variety of conflicting characters, and never really get any grounding for any of them. Roxanne is there to be pretty and to be the object of affection. She loves a man, Kelvin Harrison Jr.’s de Neuvillette and we have to believe her because she says she does. She sees him once, you see, as in literally glances at him, and that is the foundation for a film long infatuation. It is an inherited plot point from a classic source, but that doesn’t mean it is done well. This is where Dinklage’s Cyrano gets involved, he loves Roxanne also (we know he does because he says it) but sees himself as unlovable. Traditionally, Cyrano is supposed to have an exaggerated nose, here the nose is Dinklage’s regular nose. This isn’t the reason for him feeling unlovable, that is shifted to Dinklage’s stature. It is an interesting way of framing the narrative and gives it some impact, but this isn’t helped by a wider sense of artificiality. This one divergence is the only interesting touch and it is not allowed to have much impact, nor dealt with any interesting way.

A lot of this comes down to the central conflicts feeling under justified. We burst through incidents and plot points, as mentioned, and have so little traction. Characters don’t have enough definitional moments on screen to be characters and occasionally they sing, mostly they don’t. The moments of singing are sporadic, random even. Plotting duties are unevenly handled: a lot of it is handled through song (and the songs aren’t good enough for this) but then a lot of it that feels like it merits a song isn’t given one. Outside of this, the film functions in large exposition drops, especially at the start and end, that are incredibly clunky. The whole affair doesn’t fit together very well, the overwhelming issue is that every plot point or character moment feels only there to tick off obligations to the source. Nothing feels internally justified: I don’t believe in any of the relationships, characters or their actions. Everybody is so clearly obeying a structure, a script, and this saps the film of energy and joy.

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