Let’s talk about Cyrano.
Musicals are big business again! Not only do they make money but they can also dominate the cultural landscape if done right. Or just partially right. We are now four years gone from the release of The Greatest Showman and yet I hear a song from its soundtrack daily on the radio. So it’s no surprise more than ever are being released and old source material is being adapted to have a few songs in it. And this little intro is basically just there to bring me to Cyrano.
Cyrano is the leader of the guards and the best poet in town. He is however a little person and this means he believes he could never be with Roxanne, the woman he loves. Roxanne and another man, Christian fall in love but with him struggling to write love letters, Cyrano decides to write them for him.
This feels like a perfect adaptation for a musical. Cyrano’s story is one of romance but also heartbreak, both of which are prime to be mined for good songs. It could be something quite special. But one of the problems straight away is with the style. Cyrano is looking to ape Les Miserables which isn’t totally surprising considering it’s a historical musical set in France, but also misjudges the tone they should be looking for. Les Miserables is a dark movie, and the use of live singing (where the singing is done on set rather than dubbed on) worked in its favour. This style is more gritty and can lead to more vocal errors, but with Les Mis that just enhanced the rawness of some of the songs. Cyrano is more superficial and should be more polished because of the nature of the material. So when live singing is used here, with all its flaws intact, it detracts rather than enhances the experience.
And then there’s Peter Dinklage. He is not only the best part of the film but possibly one of the reason why it falls down as well. This is an incredible performance from him. He plays every part of Cyrano perfectly. When Cyrano needs to be witty and charming, Dinklage is the wittiest and most charming man you could ever possibly meet. When he becomes tortured over helping someone to fall in love with the woman he wants most dearly, you feel that pain. And then when tragedy hits, your heart will break for him. Dinklage has often been relegated to side roles and was very restricted in what he was able to do until Game of Thrones proved how good he was. But given a leading role with a lot to do, he shows what an amazing actor he is. This is the best performance he has ever given without doubt.
So why might Dinklage also be where the film falls down as well? Well because of the singing. Dinklage is not a singer with a wide range and in credit to the film makers, they know that. So what they have done is write the songs he’ll be singing in a low register and without much range so that Dinklage can concentrate in working in the emotion without straining too much. To make sure I’m clear on this, this is the right decision. If you are set on Dinklage in this role, that is what you do to make it work. But that means the songs from Cyrano himself aren’t that great. I cannot remember a single one of them a few days on from watching the movie and despite Dinklage doing his best with them, none were able to get that emotion out. It just feels like a shame.
This is in contrast to Haley Bennett as Roxanne, who gets the big songs which she can belt out. Heck, Cyrano’s love rival Christian gets the musical’s big number ‘Someone to Say’ with the awkward looking choreography. I’m not going to be too harsh on the latter by the way as this was filmed in Covid and I doubt they were able to practise large scale choreography too much. When you contrast Dinklage’s singing with their’s, it does become more apparent the weaknesses he has as a singer. I do feel a bit mean about this because other than this, Dinklage is amazing in this. It’s a performance where he would have deserved any award and nomination that came to him. But the songs let him down on this one.
Before I end the review, I want to comment on one particular scene. War is a part of this film and we do spend some time on the front lines. When this was filmed and written, I doubt they’d have expected it to coincide with a war in Europe once again, but here we are. There is a scene here where three men sing a short song about the last letter they’ll send to their loved ones before going into a suicidal battle. I think in any other time, you’d say this was a nice but not exactly necessary scene considering these three men had never been seen before and are never seen after. But I watched this a day after the invasion of Ukraine and not long after I saw that video of the father wishing his family goodbye as he’d be staying behind to fight. That makes this scene so incredibly powerful in a way they would not have expected when they made it at the end of 2020.
Cyrano is a disappointment. There’s plenty of good in here like the performances are fantastic and it is a beautiful movie to watch as well. I can see Sicily, where this was filmed, using the footage in order to advertise holidays there. But there’s so many let downs in this too. The soundtrack, which is the most important part of a musical, is not memorable and never puts out the classic which will force The Greatest Showman off the radio. And the live singing’s lack of polish, which is both a feature and a bug of said choice, doesn’t work for a tragic romance tale. It’s a shame as Peter Dinklage’s performance is truly excellent but this is one to keep your nose out of.