February 23, 2022

With Romance and Music, “Cyrano” is Optimistically Transformative (Review)

I love Urban Dictionary. Aside from including fantastically inappropriate terms that would never make it into the actual dictionary, there are words made into verbs and adjectives for no conceivable reason. One of those words is ‘Cyrano,’ for which the top definition is:
“...a situation when a nerdy guy helps a handsome guy date the girl that he loves by telling him what to say and what to do.”
The adjoining example (for how to use the word) is:
“Our boss asked us to meet him here and he is not here yet, he just tried to put us together, he cyrano’d us. Let’s make him win, kiss me.”
After my inevitable Urban Dictionary rabbit hole, I was able to laugh at the total absurdity of the word “Cyrano” being used in that context. I would be willing to bet money that no one has ever used the word like that in the entire history of the world — and how would we know? Let’s just say that I win.

Jokes aside, the definition is the bare basics of the story of Cyrano de Bergerac, a real-life poet whose life was dramatized by Edmond Rostand in 1897. The play was subsequently adapted into a musical in 2018 by Erica Schmidt, which led to the creation of the movie musical starring Peter Dinklage.

The Urban Dictionary definition is surprisingly accurate. Commonly taunted soldier Cyrano (Peter Dinklage) is in love with his childhood friend Roxanne (Haley Bennett), and uses the man that Roxanne loves, Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) to communicate his own love with her through letters. Christian himself is not very romantic, and seeks Cyrano’s help, and as events become more complicated, Cyrano must decide whether to reveal his own feelings for Roxanne.

Instead of the long nose from the play’s original production, Dinklage’s Cyrano is a person of short stature…and American, for whatever reason. This in no way detracts from the character, though, played empathetically and with such passion by Dinklage that it became more and more of a crime, as the film progressed, that he didn’t receive an Oscar nomination. It’s now one of my favorite performances from 2021, and I find it truly unfortunate that Cyrano didn’t get the big awards push it deserved.

On top of all that, Cyrano is a musical, and a damn good one at that. It excels in subtlety and avoids large-scale musical numbers, which gives the songs the quiet focus they need. Written by Aaron and Bryce Dessner, the music conveys the  emotional resonance to help us better understand the characters and what they’re feeling at any given moment. Whether it’s Christian and Cyrano pining for Roxanne through their letters, Ben Mendelsohn’s De Guiche explicating his problematic opinions about women, or anything in between, the songs of Cyrano are beautiful, heartbreaking and catchy all at the same time.

I haven’t even mentioned the brilliant costume and production design (one of which received an Academy Award nomination), because the level of immersion is real. 17th century France comes to life in an absolutely beautiful fashion, and the detail is simply stunning. Sure, it’s romantic, but so is the love story at the heart of the film!

It’s a tale as old as time, but it’s important to remember that the story of Cyrano transcends those tropes because it played a major role in their invention. I found myself getting swept up in the romance and idealism, and that’s primarily to do with the characters and the performers bringing them to life. Dinklage plays Cyrano so earnestly, and Harrison brings a hopeful and honest angle to the character of Christian. Somehow, I rooted for both of them, and found myself surprised by the story developments (even on my second viewing). Bennett is the perfect Roxanne, balancing a want for real love and a practicality that may have been lacking from the character in previous adaptations.

Is cyrano a verb? No, but perhaps after this film, it should be. Cyrano hits all the right notes, delivering an incredibly underrated musical and a stunningly beautiful romance all in one. Remember, when it attains the coveted ‘CLASSIC’ status…I was the harbinger of Cyrano’s glory.

Cyrano is now playing in select theaters.

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