An abrupt faller in the 2022 awards stakes, Joe Wright’s musical adaptation of the classic Cyrano de Bergerac chestnut was widely expected to be a contender in most categories, specifically Peter Dinklage for Best Actor. Why that didn’t happen is something of a mystery; Dinklage has been an awards-season darling before, for The Station Agent, and yet voters seem to be somewhat cagy about his contribution here. The takeaway is that while Dinklage gives heart and soul to the central character, Wright’s chocolate-box approach to making a musical is simply too vanilla to truly land.
With a string of pleasant but unmemorable songs written by The National’s Bryce and Aaron Dessner, Cyrano offers a new element in the protagonist’s diminutive stature; this Cyrano is not cruelly mocked for his nose, but by his size. Haley Bennett is Roxanne, the object of Cyrano’ intense desire, while Kelvin Harrison Jr is the handsome army cadet who uses Cyrano’s accomplished poetry to woo her. The two men end up on a battlefield at the Siege of Arras, (and Wright plays down the farce and into the original downbeat ending for a change), but Cyrano’s desire for true love won’t be kept down, and he returns to France for a tragic last act…
This is a lush film, as might be expected from the director, the Napoleonic background is well-appointed, and the swish costumes and make-up are a pleasure to look at. So what’s wrong? Cyrano has been a popular character for over a century now, and yet Wright’s film, and 2018 the stage musical by Erica Schmidt (Dinklage’s wife), stick far too slavishly to a story which needs an update; the only real twist is Cyrano’s dwarfism, but it’s not immediately clear what difference this innovation makes other than creating a showcase for Dinklage, who excels.
Cyrano isn’t a failure in any respect, but somehow it misses the mark in terms of making a firm connection to the emotions, despite careful work all round. It’s something of a triumph for Dinklage, but without much new to say about the venerable story in question, Cyrano is a frustrating also-ran when it comes to finding an appreciate audience for its tale of a small man with a big heart.
Cyrano will be released in UK cinemas today (25 February 2022).
Thanks to Universal Awards UK for advance access.