In an age in which people have gotten all too used to streaming new releases at home, sometimes the best a movie can hope for is to remind audiences of what a big screen is good for. The extravagant musical Cyrano is that kind of movie. If you’re looking for visual grandeur, it’s here in billowing quantities: you’ll see gowns in macaron-pastel colors and duels that take place in the dusty velvet night. So at least there’s that.
But Joe Wright’s well-intentioned adaptation of Erica Schmidt’s stage musical (itself drawn from Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play Cyrano de Bergerac) can’t survive its own petulant, self-centered love object, Roxanne (Haley Bennett). It’s unclear if, in this particular interpretation of the source material, Roxanne is supposed to be deeply unlikable or just flawed but sympathetic. The most generous reading is that she’s a silly thing who can’t see beyond her own clouded romantic vision, a mirror counterpart to Cyrano (Peter Dinklage), the brainy, swashbuckling royal guardsman who loves her blindly but who fears—correctly—that she won’t be able to see past what he deems his own ugliness. (There’s no colossal proboscis in this Cyrano—the title character’s insecurities stem from his own misgivings about his physical stature.)
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The story is by now so famous that it practically writes itself: after learning Roxanne is in love with the beauteous newbie guardsman Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.)—charming enough but no great shakes in the poetry department—Cyrano agrees to pen florid love notes for the eager swain. Roxanne’s ardor for Christian intensifies, as Cyrano pines for her from afar; Dinklage conveys this with a pained facial expression that suggests indigestion more than lovesickness.
Still, that’s no excuse for Roxanne’s failure, over and over again, at reading basic social cues. In the movie’s most unintentionally comical scene, she flops around on a feather bed, clutching at her nightie as she gets fired up by one of Christian’s faked letters. There’s a lot going on in Cyrano. Every so often there’s a song about thwarted desire, or a depiction of simple townsfolk dancing around merrily in their rough linen garments. Ah, humanity! What a mess we are. If this Cyrano gets at nothing else, it’s that.
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