The story of Cyrano de Bergerac, originally told via Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play, is one of those unique tales that can be told and retold in multiple different ways. Just in the past few years it’s been adapted into not one but two Netflix movies aimed at teenagers, including 2020’s delightful The Half of It.
The new film Cyrano is both a return to the original text and something completely new. Based on the 2019 off-Broadway musical featuring songs by Aaron and Bryce Dessner of The National, the film features Peter Dinklage as Cyrano, trading in the protagonist’s large nose for Dinklage’s short stature. Cyrano has long been in love with his friend, Roxanne (Haley Bennett), but is too afraid of being rejected to admit it.
Soon enough, Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), a new recruit for the army, catches her eye and vice versa. Roxanne asks Cyrano to convey to Christian that she wants him to write her letters. When informed of the request, however, Christian confesses that his writing skills pale in comparison to that of Cyrano. Cyrano, not wanting Roxanne to be disappointed, agrees to write the letters for Christian.
Directed by Joe Wright and written by Erica Schmidt (who happens to be Dinklage’s wife), the film stays true to the beats of original story, including Cyrano being a master swordsman and having another man, De Guiche (Ben Mendlesohn), competing for Roxanne’s affections. While the film is set in the 17th century and uses florid language and period costumes, it never feels overly stuffy, in large part due to the effusive performances of the actors.
The other key factor, of course, is the songs. Although none of the actors are Broadway-level singers, the commitment they have to their performances often makes up for that lack. Dinklage, as the star, has the most songs, ranging anywhere from a type of angry rap to a slow lament. The songs are mostly merely serviceable save for “Overcome,” a duet between Bennett and Dinklage that serves as both the musical and narrative high point of the film.
Dinklage, after winning four Emmys during his eight-year run on Game of Thrones, should no longer surprise anyone with his great acting skills. He has a presence and a charisma that are a match for almost anyone, making him a true leading man. Bennett, who has mostly had supporting roles in her career, makes you believe she is worthy of the attention of three men. Harrison feels a bit miscast as Christian, but he still makes the most of his few big moments.
While Cyrano is not as great as some other recent movie musicals, it still makes for highly enjoyable viewing because of the effective way it reimagines the classic story. The character of Cyrano has always been a fantastic writer, but it’s his singing ability that sets this film apart.
Cyrano opens in theaters on February 25.