Ever since the story of Cyrano de Bergerac made its stage debut in the late 19th century, the story has grown as a cultural touchstone. Loose retellings, including The Half of It and Sierra Burgess is a Loser, have reinvigorated the tale for younger viewers. At the same time, cinephiles reminisce about Steve Martin’s Roxanne and the Gérard Depardieu film from 1990. With dozens of remakes and stories across film and television, this material should be old news. Yet a strange collaboration between Peter Dinklage, Joe Wright, and the Dessner Brothers (of alt band The National) strikes gold. The new musical adaptation of Cyrano roars into theaters this weekend. It will not take much to fall in love with one of 2021’s best films.
Cyrano follows the tale of the titular hero (played by Dinklage), who adores his childhood friend Roxanne (Haley Bennett) from afar. Believing her to be too beautiful for him, he is surprised when Roxanne reveals she has fallen in love with someone unexpected. After locking eyes with Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), a soldier in Cyrano’s regiment, Roxanne demands that Cyrano protect the young soldier. Christian begins a romantic pursuit of Roxanne but cannot formulate words to woo her. When he asks Cyrano to write letters for him, our protagonist finally expresses his love for Roxanne. Under the pen name of Christian, Cyrano can finally tell Roxanne of his passion. Yet war brews, endangering both men who serve under De Guiche (Ben Mendelsohn), another suitor for Roxanne.
Fans of Peter Dinklage have long known him to be a skillful performer. However, the actor transcends the role of a lifetime in Cyrano. His turn goes far beyond the emotional heartbeat of Cyrano. Instead, he pulls his heart out of his chest, displaying new levels of vulnerability for the veteran actor. The screenplay from Erica Schmidt provides the opportunity for Dinklage to engage in his best attributes. He is quick-witted, hilariously funny, and charming beyond all reason. Yet his ability to vacillate between stoicism and raw emotion makes this performance unique.
He can tap into a doomed sense of love far better than most, displaying his worry across his face in every scene. He wears his heart on his sleeve, and his ebbs and flows will make you want to cry with him. Yet his exuberance and joy, though fleeting, are just as impactful. Dinklage makes you believe in love and fate, despite the tragedies lurking around every corner.
Dinklage, Bennett, Mendelsohn, Harrison Jr. and Bashir Salahuddin excel as an ensemble. Each actor gets their time in the spotlight and has winning moments. Bennett bursts through with her lovely vocals and electric chemistry with anyone who enters her scenes. Bennett’s singing talent shines throughout the musical, and Wright ensures her musical numbers live up to her talent. She’s a perfect match for the Desser’s compositions, giving the musical a more heartfelt and angelic tone.
Harrison continues to prove he is one of our most talented young actors. Charming beyond all reason, Harrison adds to his impressive resume with a gorgeous singing voice to boot. Mendelsohn once again chews through scenery as a villainous creature. One could see the Emmy-winning actor going too large in the role. Instead, his performance is pitch-perfect, giving us just enough reason to hate and empathize with his actions. Salahuddin may not have the most screentime, but he stands out whenever the camera turns his way. His mere presence draws your attention to him, and with an exciting slew of upcoming projects, we will undeniably be hearing his name more soon.
Director Joe Wright crafts another soaring epic focused on love and hope. His previous adaptations, including Pride and Prejudice and Atonement, were released more than a decade ago. Yet Wright was ready to return the genre with new tricks. Beyond their period settings, the three films share little in common. Instead, Cyrano represents a unique vision and time, quickly becoming the most fulfilling musical of his career.
His vision for Cyrano extends beyond its key players. The craft teams create one of the most visually appealing films in years, with their talent on display in every frame. The production design adds a regal air to the small town yet always feels lived-in. The costumes are intricate and tactile. The makeup adds pomp and circumstance but adds to the performances of Cyrano’s key players. The cinematography brings each element out while showcasing masterful lighting techniques. Cyrano would be among the most intricately crafted films of any year, and with Wright’s direction, it comes together with spectacular grace.
The Desser Brothers bring the whole film home with their intricate score and gorgeous melodies. The opening number, “Someone to Say,” instantly creates a ballet-like atmosphere that readies us for the story to come. They never expect Dinklage to overstretch and write songs that perfectly reflect his vocal range. Instead, they craft melodies that make his voice sound like another instrument in their orchestra. The piece that has the best chance to transcend the musical will be “Every Letter,” which features some of the most intricate lyrics of the show. Cyrano seems poised to launch a new career path for the Dessners.
While many audiences have grown sick of musicals, Cyrano will burrow its way into your heart. Even the most cold-hearted cynics cannot ignore the beauty of this film. The moments it captures and the emotions it showcases are why we go to the movies. They are why we choose to fall in love. Cyrano is one of the best films of 2021, and should only grow in popularity in the years to come.