Cyrano somewhat succeeds at turning classic play into bizarre musical | Screen | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Cyrano somewhat succeeds at turning classic play into bizarre musical

click to enlarge Cyrano somewhat succeeds at turning classic play into bizarre musical
Photo: Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.
Cyrano
Director Joe Wright’s new musical adaptation of the famous 1897 play Cyrano de Bergerac makes one thing abundantly clear: there is no functional difference between a sword fight and a rap battle. From the dueling battle of wits to the egging on of the crowd, down to Cyrano’s (Peter Dinklage) self-deprecating insults taking his opponent's ammunition, the opening duel in Wright’s latest is essentially the Eminem vehicle 8 Mile.

It’s one of those exhilarating moments in the film — opening Fri., Feb. 25 at the Tull Family Theater — that makes Cyrano’s verbosity feel like action, wordplay as kinetic movement. Wright’s sword-fighting direction in Cyrano is impressive, but it’s these moments of unbridled, strange energy that work best. After all, this is a full-fledged musical on the life of a medieval eccentric, filmed with a cast of hundreds in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, with an original score composed entirely by sad-boi rock band The National.

It’s unfortunate then, that so much of the film follows well-worn tropes, and doesn’t do anything new with them. It follows the life of Cyrano, a charming Renaissance man in 17th century France who falls in love with the beautiful Roxanne (Haley Bennett). Despite his general popularity, he believes his appearance as a dwarf (traditionally, Cyrano is actually undone by his extremely large nose) makes him unacceptable as a romantic interest and instead helps his fellow soldier Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) woo Roxanne using his poetic love letters.
click to enlarge Cyrano somewhat succeeds at turning classic play into bizarre musical
Photo: Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.
Cyrano
At its best, this can be the source of entertaining hi-jinks, including a scene where Cyrano is whispering the correct sweet nothings to Christian, who in turn recites them to Roxanne. Yet, for much of its runtime, Cyrano is far too formulaic, dialing back its weirdness and following a paint-by-numbers outline of a romantic musical. The initial courtship, the love triangle, the betrayal; it’s all been done so many times, and in more interesting ways (see the 1987 rom-com Roxanne, starring Steve Martin), which is a real shame to say about a film so unique on its face.

Its biggest saving grace, however, is Dinklage. From the moment he appears on screen, he’s a magnetic force. Always a captivating and inventive actor, he finds the fun in every line he delivers here. His eyes sparkle when Cyrano is feeling himself, and you can feel him collapse every time he feels like Roxanne is spurning him. He single-handedly elevates the film to something akin to the awards material it wants to be.

Musicals are always a dicey proposition. There’s just inherently a lot of buy-in from the audience and a suspension of disbelief that has to occur right from the jump. In this sense, Wright should be respected, as he’s going for something truly out there, with a high chance of failure. In the end, he misses the mark as much as he hits, but he finds the joy in the small moments enough to make Cyrano an interesting study of an interesting life.

Cyrano. Showtimes vary. Continues through March 3. Tull Family Theater. 418 Walnut St., Sewickley. $8.75-11. thetullfamilytheater.org