The story of Cyrano de Bergerac has been told and retold for more than a century, with most versions following the 1897 play by Edmond Rostand. This rendition is a musical, based on an Off-Broadway production Peter Dinklage starred in several years ago. As the others have, this one tells the tale of Cyrano, who pines for the beautiful Roxanne (Haley Bennett), but she’s attracted instead to another man named Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.). Understanding he won’t have anything more than a platonic relationship with her, Cyrano writes romantic verses for Christian to recite to Roxanne while Cyrano stands in the shadows.
As written by Erica Schmidt (Dinklage’s wife) and directed by Joe Wright, “Cyrano” lacks the one basic element necessary to any musical: good songs. Even as I walked out of the movie theater, I couldn’t remember a single song I’d just heard. Worse, Wright’s cinematic indulgences get in the way of the storytelling.
As Roxanne, Bennett is wildly miscast. It’s not that she can’t sing — she can, beautifully. I remember the first time I saw her, in a lesser-known Hugh Grant romcom, “Music and Lyrics,” in which she played a pop singer in the mold of Britney Spears or Jessica Simpson. Bennett stole every scene she was in, quite an accomplishment in a cast that also included Drew Barrymore, Brad Garrett, Kristen Johnson, and Aasif Mandvi. The problem is that Bennett looks and acts too contemporary, thus out of place in a period piece like “Cyrano.”
Also, she’s 18 years younger than Dinklage, yet they reveal in the movie that the two characters grew up in the same town. While they might have been from the same town, he would have been an adult before she was even born. How old were they when he started developing romantic (and sexual) feelings for her?
Even sadder, Ben Mendelsohn plays the Duke, Cyrano’s archrival who also wants Roxanne’s hand in marriage. For some reason, Mendelsohn decided (or was instructed by Wright) to play the Duke as if he were channeling an even more over-the-top Alan Rickman. His performance almost had me laughing out loud, and not in a good way.
As for Dinklage, his singing voice is surprisingly good, as is his swordplay, and his charisma level remains considerable. It’s obvious he was very dedicated to this project — remember, his wife wrote it — on both stage and screen. He gives it his all, but it’s not enough to carry “Cyrano” out of the shallow end of the movie pool.
The best production of Cyrano’s story remains 1987’s “Roxanne,” written by and starring Steve Martin, in one of his best performances, opposite Daryl Hannah, Rick Rossovich, Shelley Duvall, and Fred Willard. I like to watch it every once in a while to see if I can still name some of the standup comedians of that era who play smaller roles, including Damon Wayans, Max Alexander, Steve Mittleman, Ritch Shydner, Kevin Nealon, and Maureen Murphy. You’d be better off finding that on a streaming service than sitting through two hours of “Cyrano.”
I give it a 3 out of 10. Opens February 25 in theaters.