Cyrano, the latest cinematic take on the classic Edmond Rostand play, has finally gotten a wide release after some pandemic delays. The film did get a limited release for awards consideration late last year… and it underperformed: While it netted a few critics’ awards and two Golden Globe nominations (Best Musical or Comedy, and Best Actor for its star, Peter Dinklage), it only got one Oscar nomination, for Best Costume Design.
Now that my lazy ass has finally gotten around to watching it, I can say: Cyrano deserved more Oscars attention. Dinklage and the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch (The Power of the Dog) and Will Smith (King Richard) should’ve been battling it out for Best Actor at the end of March.
Dinklage is basically being ignored for his best screen work yet as the title character, a brash military man in love with his best friend, Roxanne (Haley Bennett). While Cyrano is valiant with the sword, he’s self-conscious about his “unique physique.” That infamous long nose is replaced by Cyrano being short in this update, and it gives this version the sort of realistic dimension prior versions have lacked thanks to that big Pinocchio nose.
Dinklage played the role in the 2018 stage production from which this film is adapted. The stage musical was written and directed by his real-life wife, Erica Schmidt, while this film is directed by Joe Wright, whose real-life girlfriend is Bennett. In other words, this is basically a family affair.
The film is also a musical, and a fine one at that. A few minutes in, as Dinklage was singing, I sent my brother a text (I was at home watching a screener, not in a theater) that he “sounded like the lead singer of the National.” I had no idea when I sent that text that the music in this movie was actually written by Aaron and Bryce Dessner … both members of the National. That band is a favorite, and I was delighted when a quick check of the DVD screener sleeve revealed their involvement. The entire band performs the eloquent “Somebody Desperate,” which plays over the credits.
The music is not your typical sing-songy, foot-tapping movie-musical fare. It gives the film a certain indie sophistication, and the cast excels with it, especially in “Wherever I Fall,” featuring a cameo appearance by Glen Hansard. This sequence is the film’s most rousing—and most moving.
Wright’s film has a look that has much in common with Terry Gilliam’s misunderstood and underappreciated The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, a baroque period piece comedy that made the period look both sophisticated and grotesque—including lots of powdered wigs and comically red cheeks, with everybody looking like showers and baths were not yet a thing.
Dinklage (who should have two Oscar nominations now, for this and The Station Agent) has one of the most expressive faces on a movie screen in years. When Cyrano is bummed, we can’t help but be bummed right along with him, because Dinklage’s face puts his inner turmoil and self-doubt on full, convincing display. And when Cyrano is allowed moments of happiness, it’s totally radiant and uplifting.
Those moments, however, are few and far between, because this is the story of Cyrano, the poet whose love-infused words pass through the incredibly handsome Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), with whom Roxanne has fallen in love with due to his physical beauty. Never before has this story resonated with such tragic sadness: Cyrano is a beautiful film with shining moments, but it isn’t a comedy like Steve Martin’s classic Roxanne. This one has different intentions, and the moral of the story is not particularly joyful. The net result is stunning, and the film’s ending one of the very best endings of any 2021 movie.
Audiences aren’t flocking to the movie, but I think it will find its audience in due time, especially when it starts streaming. It’ll be considered a classic someday—deservedly so.
Cyrano is playing at theaters across the valley.