Rated PG-13 for death, violence, and attempted rape. A lot of these elements are left to things happening off-screen, so visually the movie is very tame. But it doesn't necessarily mean that the movie is for all audiences. Regardless, PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Joe Wright
It's funny how the overall production of something can be ruined by one element. My childhood was...weird. As a kid, I was obsessed with the Cyrano de Bergerac story. A lot of that came from my dad. I mean, the fact that this version of the story exists, of course it rang true with me. But my dad (I only discovered recently) had dwarfism and I (at the same time discovered recently) also have dwarfism. One of my daughters has it too. (It was at Penny's genetics appointment that we found this out.) My dad and I are both very short. We're not Peter Dinklage short, but we are phenomenally short. We both chalked it up to scoliosis, but it's actual dwarfism. But my dad, being the most literate person I know, introduced me to Cyrano. I mean, the long nose thing was always kind of funny to me, but it was such a painful story.
I quickly transitioned into the Steve Martin comedy Roxanne. I always find it odd when '80s fans don't know about Roxanne. I simply assumed it was as commonplace in the world as it was in our home. But post-Roxanne, the story of Cyrano de Bergerac grew quiet. I once saw a matinee of a local theater doing a production of Edmond Rostand's play, but that was only okay. But when I saw the production of the 2021 version of Cyrano, my heart leapt with enthusiasm. I showed it to all of my classes, assuming that they would be equally excited for this musical. But I was especially captivated by the casting of Peter Dinklage as the eponymous character. He wouldn't have a long nose, but he was still Cyrano. And I loved it. I can't deny that there was some dwarf pride behind this. (I mean, I'm clearly a fair-weather fan of dwarfism considering that I'm nearly 40 and I just discovered that I'm part of the club, despite protesting it from school bullies years ago.)
The casting of Peter Dinklage as Cyrano is perhaps the most brilliant thing that I ever saw. Yes, I'm aware that Cyrano de Bergerac was always labeled as a comedy, but the story was always so tragic. The tale of someone blessed with an abundance of character and charm confined to the body of a circus freak. Subconsciously, it must have bothered me that Rostand simply gave Cyrano a goofy nose. A goofy nose never read as true to life. Maybe Rostand wanted to really stress how fickle people are about minor physical deformities, allowing Cyrano to be handsome in all manners except for his nose. But that nose always pulled me out of the story. It lacked verisimilitude. But dwarfism is so human. It's too human. It's something that we've all seen and chosen to distance ourselves from. Maybe it's the accidental themes that years have, but Cyrano would parallel the same struggle that the short film "The Dress" had. How does one endure rejection when dealing with short stature?
I don't think that I need the story of Cyrano to be funny. I get that Cyrano is imbued with wit and cleverness. After all, the most memorable scene from both the play and Roxanne is the protagonist's ability to make an exceptional amount of jokes about his own nose. But it isn't like the entire play is lined with jokes. If anything, the story focuses on the drama and the torture that this character endures for the happiness of his impossible love, Roxanne. It's the idea that Cyrano has the most complex relationship with Christian, a man who is able to make his love happy while he steals her away. But fundamentally, it's a story that elevates the notion of love as something divine. Whether that's healthy or not, it's the core of good storytelling. When Cyrano confesses the reality of his feelings to Roxanne at the end of the story, there is something so bittersweet in this moment of his death. While Roxanne claims that she would have reciprocated his love, the challenges that their relationships would have endured are never really put to the test. Instead, it exists in a perfect unperformed possibility. It's tragic and beautiful at the same time.
But like I said, I was underwhelmed with this movie. I mean, it's gorgeous. It made a connection between real deformity and the common man. But the music? Golly, the music. Music is something that is about taste. I know. So are movies. But I can argue about the brilliance of a film even if it isn't my taste. Music, perhaps, is more visceral. The music in Cyrano is just...bad. Part of it comes from the performance. After all, I can recognize that the only really stellar singing performance comes from Christian, which actually got my wife to slightly watch the movie for a second. But it goes beyond performance. While I recognize that the film of Cyrano owes its conception to a stage show, that music is just bad. It's almost yacht rock. As a guy who spent his high school and college years preaching Moulin Rouge!, I have to apologize that stuff like Moulin Rouge! would go onto inspire movies like this. And it just doesn't work. There are so many songs in Cyrano and they just steam-drive the film forward at a breakneck pace. It movies so fast that it almost makes the story boring because it feels like the Sparknotes version of Cyrano.
And it doesn't really need it. There are so many good elements without the music that the singing actually detracts from it. A great musical should be something that has me waiting for the next great number. Cyrano had me rolling my eyes every time the instruments would give the introductory bars leading into another painful song. And the lyrics? My goodness, they were just so on the nose. There wasn't any room for nuance. And the crazy thing about that is that the story of Cyrano is one of repression and dramatic irony. But the fact that every character sings his or her motivations, it just loses all sense of nuance. I've never seen a story get so unhinged by one element being underdeveloped, but that award now goes to Cyrano. I wanted to love it. If I surgically excised the musical numbers, I would think that Cyrano would have been one of my favorite movies of the year. But the music was just that bad. If you liked the music, good. Keep liking the music. You should be watching a pretty decent movie. But for those like me who found this early '90s power ballad style of singing soul-crushing, it's hard to remember any of the positive traits.
There's a good movie there, just lying under the flashiness. The problem is that this movie probably wouldn't have been made with Dinklage in the lead if it wasn't for the need to adapt a stage show. But God, I just want to see Dinklage play this role without the odd hook attached to it. It's such a good story and he is perfect in that role.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.