Reporting from the Telluride Film Festival.
Cyrano feels like it should work. A musical retelling of Edmond Rostand’s 19th-century play set on the isle of Sicily with comedy, action, and romance. Starring Peter Dinklage, Haley Bennett, Ben Mendelsohn, and Kelvin Harrison Jr. Featuring songs by Aaron and Bryce Dessner of The National. And directed by British filmmaker Joe Wright? Sounds like a winner to me.
Sadly, Cyrano isn’t. The components are there, but the cohesion is not.
Cyrano started first as a stage show with Erica Schmidt adapting Rostand’s play for her husband, Dinklage—retaining Cyrano’s self-doubts with his physical appearance by replacing a big nose with a short stature. Wright loved Schmidt’s take and Dinklage’s performance and decided that this was the movie he wanted to make coming out of England’s lockdown last summer. “A love letter to love,” he calls it. So Wright packed up his cast and crew, relocated everyone to Sicily, where COVID-19 cases were low, and built a production bubble there.
The results are attractive. Sicily is beautiful, and cinematographer Seamus McGarvey makes it look like a living postcard. Credit also goes to production designer Sarah Greenwood and costume designer Massimo Cantini Parrini—no detail seems overlooked. Why then do the script and direction fall for so many obvious traps? The age difference of 20 years between Roxanne (Bennett) and Cyrano (Dinklage) seems a more obvious hurdle than their physical statures. And there are multiple references to their childhood friendship. In what capacity? If he was 30 when she was 10, what kind of relationship did they have?
The questions continue. Harrison plays Christian more as a tongue-tied admirer horny for Roxanne than real competition for her hand, while Mendelsohn plays De Guiche as a classic creep. His big showstopping number is about ginning himself up to go rape Roxanne.
It’s an odd moment, to say the least, but it’s not the only one. Cyrano kills a handful of men in a duel, even setting one on fire, and the movie ends with war and plenty of death. In one shot, a row of soldiers advance and fire. One soldier is cut down, and another soldier, this one younger than the first, runs up and fills the absence. That’s a pretty powerful image, one that says a lot about who fights and who dies in wars. But what’s it doing here, in Wright’s “love letter to love?”
If Cyrano were a meal, it would look delicious, taste disappointing, and give you indigestion.
Directed by Joe Wright
Written by Erica Schmidt
Based on Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand
Produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Guy Heeley
Starring: Peter Dinklage, Haley Bennett, Ben Mendelsohn, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Bashir Salahuddin
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Rated PG-13, Running time 124 minutes, Opens Dec. 25, 2021.