Fan Effect reviews musical adaptation of “Cyrano”
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SALT LAKE CITY — It is a tricky feat to take a beloved classic, give it a twist, and present it to audiences.
That is what Metro Goldwyn Mayer and award-winning director Joe Wright are doing with the movie “Cyrano” opening in theaters this weekend. But these creatives are risking more by not only switching an iconic feature of their hero, but they are also setting the whole story to music. While these risks have paid off with numerous award nominations, including an Oscar, and critical acclaim, will audiences like it?
The brief answer: Some will be enthralled by this breathtakingly beautiful and soulful version of the film, but the majority of audiences won’t, or will even find it a pretentious drag.
For myself, a self-proclaimed art and storytelling advocate, I am absolutely in love with this film! Shortcomings and all.
The beloved plot
The most famous version of “Cyrano de Bergerac,” is the 1897 play by Edmond Rostand, loosely based on the historic dramatist who lived in 17th-century France.
This Cyrano is a brash, poetic, long-nosed French duelist hopelessly in love with his beautiful and intelligent distant cousin Roxanne. But when she confesses her interest in the handsome cadet Christian just joining Cyrano’s army company, Cyrano promises to befriend and protect him. Upon finding Christian to be remarkably dull and tongue-tied, Cyrano agrees to be his voice, both literarily and literally in a famous balcony scene, in the courtship of Roxanne. This nontraditional courtship is complicated even more by a third and more powerful suitor, the Count de Guiche, raising the stakes from that of unrequited love, to death on a battlefield.
The new movie “Cyrano” takes majorly from this plot but switches our hero’s iconically obnoxiously large nose to the real medical condition known as dwarfism. This twist deepens Cyrano’s struggle with his own perceived ugliness, to a profound exploration of society’s expectations regarding our outward appearances.
In a story focused on our very human and universal need for human connection and want of love, this film takes a look at how relationships evolve and does so beyond the traditional story of “Cyrano and Roxanne.”
The very good and the misunderstood
Peter Dinklage plays the part of Cyrano with an emotional resilience strengthened by his award-winning acting prowess, and his life with dwarfism. The lesser-known Haley Bennett portrays the lovely Roxanne with a striking presence, sweet beauty, and surprisingly powerful soprano voice. In the choice to have a Black actor take on the role of Christian, Kelvin Harrison Jr. brings personal strength, the energy of naive youth, and likeability to Cyrano’s competition not often seen in this role.
Supporting cast like Ben Mendelsohn as De Guiche, Monica Dolan as Roxanne’s maid Marie, and Bashir Salahuddin as Cyrano’s friend Le Bret, complete the interesting and complex world of 1640s France.
The story is brought to life with music created by members of the American Rockband “The National.” The dramatic mix of piano, string instruments, and percussions shape the progress of the film in surprising ways. The music could be a problem to some as it lakes a consistent feel, both sung and background. But I felt that the music somehow works with the sometimes chaotic events of the film.
When it comes to vocals, Haley Bennett was a powerhouse and Kelvin Harrison Jr. was pretty standard. Some of the most standout vocals came from background characters (“Wherever I Fall” made me cry!). And while our star Peter Dinklage’s singing lacks that traditional musical luster, his problematic pipes offer a touching sincerity to the role.
In fact, Peter Dinklage’s performance is one that has garnished the movie the most awards nominations. The film was limitedly released in festivals in 2021, and this already has qualified for our current award season. Dinklage has been nominated as “Best Actor” by BAFTA, the Golden Globes, Hollywood Critics Association, and more. The film has rightfully garnished awards and nominations for achievements in costume design, production design, use of music and sound, makeup, original song, and more.
So with all this praise from myself and cinematic critics, why would I say some audiences will dislike it?
There was a point at the screening of this film where I was just overwhelmed by the skillful cinematography, choreography, and pure performance of the song on the screen. I was just LOVING it, but at the same time a clear thought came into my head, “some people are going to HATE THIS.”
Primarily individuals who don’t “get” musicals, or the need for retelling the same story in different ways.
They are going to look beyond the art of the film and its literary predecessors, and get distracted by multiracial and multi-abled casting calling it “politically correct.” Others will not like the production design calling it “self-indulgent.” The story, while iconic, could feel long-winded or unbelievable. And with the fast-paced flourished script, comedic bits, and tragedy dispersed throughout, might not like the script.
I feel sad for those individuals who will pan the movie and its message in favor of the standard Hollywood fodder.
But that’s ok! This film isn’t really for those audiences!
Audiences who might not like “Cyrano” already have their own more comedic version of Cyrano to see. The most popular being the 1987 “Roxanne” starring Steve Martin and Daryl Hannah. Martin’s epic nose jokes scene is hilarious!
Other audiences have a treasure trove of TV adaptations:
- The Brady Bunch’s 1972 episode “Cyrano de Brady.”
- Futurama’s 2000 animated episode “Why Must I Be a Crustacean in Love?”
- PBS children’s series Wishbone, with a Jack Russel terriers portrayal of our long-nosed lover “Cyranose.”
Seriously the Wikipedia entry has versions listed from radio, to opera, to even a scientific study technique called “Cyranoids.”
While I don’t think “Cyrano” will be a box office smash, there will be a segment of the audience where it becomes a favorite movie musical.
The risks the creatives on this film have taken will be rewarded in that fanatic fanbase. They (like me) will go home and listen to the soundtrack on repeat, compare versions, seek out podcasts on the historical person, and dive into the connections to other works of literature like The Three Musketeers.
I am among the critics who join the “Someone to Say” positive things about Cyrano.
But if you would like another opinion on “Cyrano”?
Check out my Fan Effect Podcast cohost Andy Farnsworth’s review for KSL TV, where he says “‘Cyrano’ manages to be fascinating and frustrating at the same time” and “unfortunately, some of the musical moments also proved to be a huge distraction and took me right out of the film.”
Beyond Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Gaming and Tech, the brains behind Fan Effect are connoisseurs of categories surpassing the nerdy. Listen regularly on your favorite platform, at kslnewsradio.com, or on the KSL NewsRadio app. Join the conversation on Facebook @FanEffectShow, Instagram @FanEffectShow, and Twitter @FanEffectShow. Fan Effect is sponsored by Megaplex Theatres, Utah’s premiere movie entertainment company.
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