Back in February I saw a trailer on Instagram for a new adaptaion of the classic tale of Cyrano de Bergerac. In the original, Cyrano is an ugly, yet highly skilled officer with an abnormally large nose, low self esteem, and a hopeless love for his cousin, Roxanne. Too insecure to declare himself, he allows another soldier, Christian Neauvilette, to woo Roxanne with letters written by Cyrano himself. Roxanne falls in love with Cyrano's words and Christian's face, and a confused desire consumes the three. I bought tickets almost immediately, eager to see this new-old romance and be swept off my feet.
Joe Wright, the director responsible for the cinematic masterpiece of many movies, including Pride and Prejudice (2005), Atonement (2007), Anna Karenina (2012), Pan (2015), and Darkest Hour (2017), is known for his brilliance in period pieces. His talent for harnessing the expression of even the newest to the movie business is highly regarded in the world of film. But I have to say that in this latest work, he missed the mark.
Perhaps Wright cannot be the only one to blame. I had my quibbles with the portrayal of the characters as well. The plot was dependent on the audience wanting Roxanne for Cyrano. But in all truth, I really just wanted all of the characters to be done with the others and go their separate ways. I didn't feel that Cyrano had proved himself worthy of true, abiding love, that Christian earned any sympathy, nor that Roxanne was any prize, at all. The establishment of each character's insecurity was so quick and without explanation that the roadblock of Cyrano's appearance, especially, (in this adaptation, the physical insecurity lies in Cyrano's dwarfism), didn't seem like a roadblock at all.
Peter Dinklage was, as expected, a shining point in this film. His tone, facial expressions, physical performance, and commitment to the role earned my admiration and applause, if not my sympathy for the character. The acting in this film was nothing to criticize, considering the writing. Comic relief provided by the incomparable Monica Dolan and Bashir Salahuddin was most necessary. I especially appreciated the general performance considering that, aside from the timeless declarations of love and entertaining quips, the writing, especially that of the songs -- this is a musical, I should mention -- did not have me wanting to bring my friends to another screening. "Wherever I Fall" stands practically alone in terms of songs worth listening to again, boasting a consistent meter, which is more than can be said for the rest of the songs in the movie. The inconsistent rhythm and rhyme could be forgiven in "What I Deserve" when coupled with the image on screen: a jilted and fuming Colonel on his way to declare his "love" for Roxanne, but the score will never be compared to anything by Menken, Sondheim, or Zimmer.
I will end on this combined topic of love and music. One line in particular seems to illustrate my main problem with this film: "You light up desire just by describing it." The sequence when Roxanne receives all of Cyrano's letters in Christian's name is peculiar, decadent, and -- I think -- not true to the spirit of the story. Does Roxanne want to be loved or desired? If desire is all that Cyrano can actually prove, then he is no different than Christian or any of the nobility wanting Roxanne as a trophy wife. Is Roxanne in thrall to the romance of it all, the whole story she has written in her head, or could she actually betray her sensibilities enough to settle for sensuality? These are motives that have to be clear in the writing in order to have the best performance by the actors, a legitimate plot, and an interested and sympathetic audience.
All in all, I think the trailer was more of a masterpiece than the whole of the film itself. It is a film that I suppose I'm glad I saw once, but would not see again. I will be on the lookout for more from Wright and Dinklage and, without spoiling anything for those new to the tale, will say that I look forward to the production of a period piece, at the end of which, the audience doesn't look around and say "Well...okay" when the lights come up.