Posted Date: 2022 02 22 -
Award-winning director Joe Wright envelops moviegoers in a symphony of emotions with music, romance, and beauty in Cyrano, re-imagining the timeless tale of a heartbreaking love triangle. A man ahead of his time, Cyrano de Bergerac (played by Peter Dinklage) dazzles whether with ferocious wordplay at a verbal joust or with brilliant swordplay in a duel. But, convinced that his appearance renders him unworthy of the love of a devoted friend, the luminous Roxanne (Haley Bennett), Cyrano has yet to declare his feelings for her — and Roxanne has fallen in love, at first sight, with Christian (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.).
Director: Joe Wright
Writers: Erica Schmidt
Stars: Peter Dinklage, Haley Bennett, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Ben Mendelsohn
Have You Ever Loved Someone?
If you haven’t heard of it by now, almost 125 years since it was originally written by Edmond Rostand, the play Cyrano de Bergerac fictionalizes the life of a man with a rather large nose and his insecurities behind it. In the past, I have seen Cyrano as a play and as a movie. Neither styles nor their subsequent versions were entertaining. Most were shallow attempts at comedic relief and rather minimally a battle for true love. A man with a large nose is hindered from being with the one he loves because pride has him believe she will not accept him due to such a feature. An over dramatization of a small imperfection preventing our lead from living a fulfilling life.
Maybe personal experiences had taught differently, deterring me from loving the life and story of Cyrano. Growing up in a family of large nosed Italians, none of which were hindered from finding love because of the size of their schnoz. To be insecure is understandable and an unfortunate side effect of a society obsessed with perfection. However, to let an insignificant physical characteristic completely thwart happiness is something hardly relatable. Our generation has seen a greater magnitude of hindrances and has accepted a vast range of physical variables. Therefore, when I was told that my business partner would be heading to New York for a private screening of the newest Cyrano, I was as uninterested as if it were a foreign language film with no subtitles. What could make Cyrano entertaining that hasn’t been tried a dozen times prior?
What if Cyrano’s difference was not that of a large nose but instead something more unique and far more relatable to our generation? Perhaps a feature that is rare, one that has faced indifference while seeking acceptance in a judgmental society. An endearment that has the audience falling in love with the lead, wanting to fight for his right to have everything his heart desires. Granted, when the original play was written science was not nearly as evolved, life spans were incredibly shorter than compared to today averaging only 39 years, and many medical anomalies were considered death sentences. It would have been uncommon to see someone live with conditions such as cerebral palsy, autism, or even short stature. A large nose would have been the worst type of physical imperfection society would have had to face during Cyrano’s era. Now, 125 years later in a world where an average life span is well over 100 and babies born with serious medical conditions not only survive but also grow to be healthy adults, why not weave a more modern tale of loving from afar?
Obviously, the primary objective of Cyrano was more to draw attention to insecurities that one may feel burdened behind and less about a physical attribute. Prior renditions unfortunately seem to poke more fun at the main character’s insecurity rather than draw attention to the emotions associated with a lack of self-confidence. Cyrano is a tale of what an individual feels, what is perceived another might love or hate about themselves, and less about what is seen. The challenges we each face within our own insecurities, the importance of relating to others through our differences, and the ability to overcome is what makes the story insightful. This focus is precisely what the incredibility talented writer Erica Schmidt had in mind. After Ms. Schmidt spent years perfecting and cultivating her vision of Cyrano, quite seamlessly orchestrating the tale harmoniously alongside an original score for the story, director Joe Wright became charmed by her adaption and was then determined to bring it to life on the big screen as a “celebration to life and a love letter to love.”
With the director Joe Wright, you have piqued my interest in the film and even intrigued with a longing to see if this is yet another brilliant work of his that was flawlessly executed. Joe Wright, like no other, has a way of pulling strong, even raw emotions from his actors straight through the screen and ultimately smacking the viewer square in the chest. He is a lover of drama and an expert of connecting such to an audience. I have loved his concepts and style of storytelling since his adaption of one of my favorite books, Pride and Prejudice. Mr. Wright’s version has been my go-to for the last two decades when I need a pick me up or when I need to reignite my belief that love does exist. It is flawless and invoking, igniting deep emotions at times with a simple piano solo. Even his work with Atonement was superb. While it hurts my soul to watch the film, from the scenes of abuse and wrongful accusation to the supremely sad and unfulfilling demise of the characters’ love story, each step of the way the viewer is encapsulated in emotion. How does he do it? Is he truly a romantic at heart or does he just completely understand human emotion to the degree of being able to provoke it? After seeing the film, I can verify Cyrano does not disappoint. If anything, details about the production only serve to elevate the film to an even more impressive level.
With an open mind and a hopeful heart, I was able to watch Cyrano. There were many moments throughout that I found myself breathless, completely stunned by the beauty of the film and its score. Ultimately, I found myself far too emotional for an ordinary Saturday afternoon. Left speechless, I was entranced with a new fondness for Cyrano and the effect it had on me, something I was completely unprepared for. How did the crew manage to create a variation of the classic story that I was not only excited for and rejuvenated by, but also captivated me to the point of falling in love with it? Pure talent from every element and every corner of this production can be the only answer for such an astounding piece of art.
As audiences will soon find out, there are a plethora of differences that distinguish this revamped version of Cyrano from its previous counterparts. Primarily, but not limited to, the writer, the actors, the songs, and overall plot all intertwined with the creativity of the director. This reimagined vision of Cyrano came to fruition against many obstacles. One challenge was to create something different, as the story has been previously overdone and played out far too many times all while lacking true brilliance to inspire or captivate. Another would have been adapting the script to a film version. The ability to transform a stage performance into a motion picture appears to be extremely difficult and far too often falls short of expectations. Likewise, the aptitude to transpose a musical presentation cohesively and enthrallingly across the big screen is something few can do masterfully. Lastly, a worldwide pandemic had decided to wreak havoc on not only the film industry but life in general.
Firstly, I have mentioned my love for director Joe Wright’s absolute talent. His majestic film making skills far from disappointed with Cyrano. Every detail is shear mastery, from his cleverness to film in the little Italian town of Noto, Sicily and on top of the live volcano Mount Etna, to his insistence that each song be performed and filmed live. Filming in a small, secluded town was not only responsible during a pandemic, but the disarray of the town was exactly the aesthetic the story required. With castles, rubble, and destroyed city structures, there are no signs of a town pretending to be stuck in time but indeed a civilization lacking modern amenities. Filming locations, choreography while singing, and fluidity of capturing each scene in one seamless motion was a marvelous feat. I can only imagine the amount of hard work that went into each scene.
Mr. Wright’s decision to have the actors perform the songs live while filming doesn’t just add authenticity, but it also takes this film’s musical element a step above the rest. Much can be said for the power of a live performance. To witness a musical performed live is breath taking. Where most film adaptions are disappointing as they are filled with intense, unrealistic choreography that could never be accomplished while singing, I appreciate moments in Cyrano when a gasp of the actors’ breath can be heard between lines, or their shoes are clacking on the floor as they move within the scene. These live performances provide tiny imperfections that “break our hearts” as Mr. Wright envisioned. It is truly the most powerful way to bring a stage musical to film. For example, having this little insightful bit of knowledge while watching a dozen men sing as a fellow actor is running past them through an action scene elevates that moment and makes it truly captivating.
Since we are on the topic of the music, I had researched the film and all its working components. I had read the names of the Dessner brothers and Matt Berninger along with Carin Besser. I learned that this was an original score from members of The National. At the time when I acquired this knowledge, it did not register in my brain that this was referencing the band. That little bit of incomprehension was soon dissipated from the first song. With such a unique writing style as The National have, the score perfectly added a subtle twist of rock to a classical story. I couldn’t begin to convey in words of how powerful each song enabled the storyline to be. There is even a pleasant surprise with having a legend such as Glen Hansard not only sing but also act. With just a few minutes screen time, Mr. Hansard manages to strike every heart string singing while asking a fellow soldier to tell his family not to cry. Of course, this instantly catches my breath and causes me to tear up.
All the actors in this film had wonderful voices with each bringing strength and depth to their solos. There is not a single song I did not find beautiful. I am, however, especially fond of those performed by Haley Bennett. Each song connected to that hopeless romantic inside with longings of unspoken desires and powerful exclamations of “I need more”. With the most captivating, and perfectly timed, of them being the first song of the film comprising of lyrics that feel as though the writers were able to look inside the heart of every romantic and verbalize every wish or desire that resides in its depths. “What does it feel like to slow dance in sunlight with someone you love; somebody who sees you and wont ever leave you alone whatever comes.” Be still my sappy, wildly beating heart.
It is essential to draw attention to a most excellent cast. When I think of roles Peter Dinklage has performed in the past, I remember a lot of wit, spite, and even at times hostility. In my ignorance to his vast talent, I would not have previously imagined him portraying such a love struck, romantic character. Mr. Dinklage brings passion and wit to the role as he always does, but also a wholeheartedly softness rarely seen. There could not have been anyone more perfect for the role. It is as if the role were written just for him. Given that his real-life wife is writer Erica Schmidt, it would be easy to assume such. That, however, was not the case. Only once Mr. Dinklage did a reading with the script did it become clear he was the perfect fit for the role. Mr. Dinklage portrays Cyrano as kind, loving, strong, studious, fierce, and incredibly selfless. Full of pride and an insistence that the one he loves will not return his affections due to his “unique physique”, Cyrano becomes the voice of the man she has fallen for. He provides the man with poetic words of adoration ultimately wooing the woman for the other man by way of Cyrano’s unspoken feelings. Today, we would call him a catfish. Poetic, even while dueling with a sword, Mr. Dinklage was masterful and embodied all the potential other Cyrano’s lacked. When he moves, it is with such charisma that it’s as if his limbs are twice their length. When singing, his baritone voice is hauntingly beautiful. The depth and warmth within it conjure such raw emotions of love, longing, and even profound sadness. “Have you ever wanted something so badly you cannot breathe, have you ever loved someone madly?”
Opposite of Mr. Dinklage is the incredibly beautiful and talented Haley Bennett. Her character, Roxanne, is a woman with a heart much like my own, or more of my younger self, invoking a feeling of kinship with her spirit. She has a longing for love and a wistful romanticism for how it will transpire. In her attempts to find that moment when her breath is taken and passion precedes all reason, she immaturely courts a Duke, leading him to believe her actions are of affection for him and not for her own personal gain. Situations in life teach us by trial and error, and in her adolescence careless handling of another’s emotions, Roxanne learns a hard lesson about being truthful. After rejecting the Duke, she becomes acquainted with vengeance from a scorned former beau. Roxanne’s world is flipped on its axis, and she is left scorched with heartbreak. In our immaturity we often long to feel such passion for another it drives us wild. A passion that is like a fire on our skin, all-consuming and blinding. But also, one that teases the mind, ignites our hopes, and stimulates the senses. While Ms. Bennett is singing lyrics of longing, I can’t help but feel her pain, sadness, and desire.
Last actor that must be mentioned is Kelvin Harrison Jr. Though least known of the three, he is no less remarkable. Mr. Harrison plays Christian, the man whom Roxanne falls madly in love with from first sight. Typically, the character is portrayed shallow and simple minded. He is not someone that is normally seen as having depth or someone that even strives to better himself. With Mr. Harrison playing Christian, he sings of a longing to be free to be himself in the eyes of his beloved. He sings of insecurities he has as a less educated man, ideas of books and growth for which his father instilled he should not be concerned with. Mr. Harrison brings emotion and longing to the character. “I’d give anything for someone to say all the words I don’t have and can’t put together”.
Almost two years after the world had been turned upside down, a time when fear, pain, and anguish had been present more than ever before, when isolation became the way and human contact was dismissed as an afterthought, Director Joe Wright had a vision. A vision to bring a bit of love and happiness back into the world. How better to do that than touching our souls with a story of love, triumph, and happiness? A new twist on a classic tale, one that gives the audience a longing for love and human contact as it used to be. With talent and brilliance that only Mr. Wright has, Cyrano touches our souls igniting deep emotion, reviving that human connection, and a lost idea of love. A tale that makes us laugh, sing, be happy, and even gives us a bittersweet cry. Refreshing and exciting, Cyrano does not disappoint.