Producers: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner and Guy Heeley Director: Joe Wright Screenplay: Erica Schmidt Cast: Peter Dinklage, Haley Bennett, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Ben Mendelsohn, Bashir Salahuddin, Monica Dolan, Peter Wight, Anjana Vasan, Joshua James and Mark Benton Distributor: United Artists/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
It’s rather amazing that Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play “Cyrano de Bergerac” has so often been musicalized, since there aren’t many stage works that feature dialogue that is itself so musical that it’s in need of no further help. There have been operas, an operetta by Victor Herbert, and even a flop Broadway show from 1973, with a libretto by Anthony Burgess, no less (it starred Christopher Plummer).
Now we have another in the form of this film from Joe Wright, based on a 2018 off-Broadway show written by Erica Schmidt, who also penned the screenplay for the adaptation starring—as did the stage production—her husband Peter Dinklage.
While the basic story, about a swashbuckling but physically self-conscious man who agrees to provide romantic words for a handsome but tongue-tied comrade though he loves the woman his friend is wooing, remains basically intact in this version, Cyrano’s problem is not an enormous nose, but his diminutive size. He’s what is now generally referred to as a little person.
The change is perfectly acceptable, especially when it paves the way for Dinklage to play the lead. He gives a commanding performance, delivering Schmidt’s lines with absolute conviction and adopting the pose of military confidence mingled with sad self-sacrifice the role requires to perfection.
Would that Wright had surrounded him with equally compelling co-stars. Haley Bennett is a pretty but pallid Roxanne, and Kevin Harrison Jr. equally bland as her amour Christian. Ben Mendelsohn, on the other hand, employs his villainous mode with relish as the foppish De Guiche, who also aims to have Roxanne for his own. The supporting cast, however, is excellent. Bashir Salahuddin (Le Bret) and Monica Dolan (Marie, Roxanne’s attendant) are fine, but the real crowd-pleasers are Mark Benton as Montfleury, the pompous actor Cyrano tosses offstage in the film’s exuberant prologue; Joshua James as Valvert, the snooty marquis he bests in swordplay; and Peer Wight as Ragueneau, the pastry chef he helps with his poetry.
One can also appreciate the film’s visual opulence—shot in impressive locations in Sicily, it benefits from Sarah Greenwood’s elegant production design, Massimo Canti Parini’s splendid costumes, and Seamus McGarvey’s lush cinematography, even if Wright’s propensity for flamboyant camerawork is more irritatingly self-indulgent than expressive. Though Valerio Bonelli’s editing can be dilatory at times, the film holds one’s interest reasonably well.
The real problem, though, is with the score, a collection of numbers with music of surpassing banality by Bryce and Aaron Dessner and lyrics by Matt Berninger and Carin Besser to match. It’s the sort of droning, repetitive stuff largely free of melody that afflicts most stage music nowadays, and though the cast handle its requirements well enough, one begins to dread each time the drama will be interrupted again by another intrusion of it.
That’s a pity, especially since for the most part Schmidt has attempted to attend to Rostand’s dramatic beats faithfully, down to a less melodramatic facsimile of the play’s bittersweet finale, which Dinklage plays with predictable brilliance.
The result is a mixed bag, a musical that would be better off without the music. But though there are quite a few other admirable versions of “Cyrano” on film, it would be a pity to forgo Dinklage’s charismatic take on the character.