Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play “Cyrano de Bergerac” is no stranger to being retold.
This universally beloved story about struggling with self-image and unrequited love can be enjoyed by all audiences, and Joe Wright’s 2021 film adaptation carries on this legacy. Though the film serves as a mostly loyal retelling of the original play, “Cyrano” utilizes its new medium to create stunning visuals and incorporates a musical twist. While the tried-and-true narrative rarely falters, the same cannot be said about the film’s substantive soundtrack.
“Cyrano” tells the story of Cyrano de Bergerac (Peter Dinklage), a French soldier, gifted swordsman and even more prolific poet. Though Cyrano is madly in love with his childhood friend, local beauty Roxanne (Haley Bennett), he believes that his love will never be requited due to his physical appearance. When Roxanne confesses to Cyrano that she’s fallen in love with Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), an inarticulate new recruit in his regiment, Cyrano makes him a proposal: “I will make you eloquent, and you will make me handsome.” Thus, the long string of secrets and ghostwritten love letters begins.
The film, while inspired by the original play, is more specifically based on the already adapted, eponymous 2018 stage musical by Dinklage’s wife, Erica Schmidt. Playing a sharp wordsmith, Dinklage’s delivery throughout the film is nothing short of poetic. His thoughtful, nuanced speech makes it easy to forget that his lines are scripted at all. Dinklage’s brilliant ability to instill personality into his role not only gives Cyrano intellectual prowess, but makes him sympathetic as well. Beneath his witty exterior is a vulnerable romantic; the full scope of Cyrano’s complex character is captured seamlessly by Dinklage.
The portrayal of insecurity in the film is also remarkable, largely thanks to Dinklage’s performance. Cyrano de Bergerac is always known to have a physical difference — originally and most frequently a very large nose, here, it’s Dinklage’s dwarfism — at the root of his feelings of inferiority. However, audiences do not need to share these characteristics to be able to see themselves in Cyrano; his expressions of love and helplessness are widely understood. Cyrano can remind viewers of themselves at both their most charming and most hopeless.
Bennett and Harrison Jr.’s performances are also fantastic. The former portrays a gentle, lovable Roxanne who is as self-assured as she is desirable, and the latter plays the naive and awkward but well-intentioned Christian. The distinct personalities of Cyrano, Roxanne and Christian make their interactions within this love triangle even more amusing and heartbreaking, ensuring a strong foundation for the story.
The soundtrack, on the other hand, is a mixed bag. The songs in “Cyrano” emulate the poetry and speeches of “Cyrano de Bergerac,” which may serve as an entertaining change for many. The lyricism is also strong throughout, particularly exemplary in “Someone to Say,” Roxanne’s song about yearning for love. Unfortunately, not all of the songs are successes. Cyrano’s first song, “When I Was Born,” takes place during a sword fight and detracts from the action of the scene significantly, an unfortunate flaw shared by a few of the film’s songs.
The transitions into these tracks are often rough as well, frequently taking audiences out of the story. While some songs complement the scenes unfolding onscreen, others break up the film and feel unnecessary or out of place.
The standout song in the film is “Wherever I Fall – Pt. 1,” sung by the soldiers in Cyrano and Christian’s regiment as they march into battle. The song has a moving melody and powerful lyrics, heightening the stakes of “Cyrano” more effectively than any other track. It’s a shame that this emotional impact isn’t present in the film’s other songs, which could have further supported the development of the romances.
“Cyrano” is a satisfactory adaptation of its centuries-old inspiration, preserving much of the original play while daring to experiment with new creative changes. However, with such a stark contrast between the quality of the acting and the music, the film may make viewers wish they could indulge in more of Dinklage’s melodic speech over another unexciting song.