Cyrano (Review): An Uplifting Celebration of Beauty and Poetry

Cyrano adapts a classic romance story with a musical spin. But does its approach inspire elation or abhorrence? Read this review to uncover the answer…

I forced myself to use fancy words for my opening line because Cyrano has a lot of those. It’s all about expression of feelings with the most gorgeous strings of words! Poetry is admired and relished in this story. But what’s said story about?

Cyrano is about a dwarf guardsman with the heart of a poet and a passionate love for his longtime friend, Roxanne. I only mention Cyrano is a dwarf because that’s a large part of the story. He’s afraid to reveal his feelings to Roxanne for fear she’ll reject him and prove herself shallow. All the worse for Cyrano: Roxanne loves a man named Christian (he loves her in return), whom she made Cyrano promise to protect for her. Sounds like an easy to manipulate situation. But Cyrano genuinely wants to keep his promise to Roxanne!

To add another complication: Roxanne values intelligence in a man, and Christian is uneducated. So he and Cyrano devise a plan: Christian will be Roxanne’s face-to-face lover while Cyrano writes poetic love letters to her in Christian’s name. Their goal ultimately being to give Roxanne her perfect man, both in body and mind.

Cyrano is a deep and complex character. His pride, bravery, and romantic heart are strongly developed aspects of his personality! He’s most defined by an inner conflict to sacrifice his own happiness so that his love can keep hers. Cyrano spends this story actively working against his own self interest, which feels unique to me. He’s got a noble spirit, if ever I’ve seen one in a character.

As is mentioned multiple times though, he never gave Roxanne a chance before she fell in love with Christian. Hence, his pride was his major flaw. He just assumed she’d be shallow and unattracted to him– or worse, that she’d care what society thought of their match. All these things, of course, were excuses so as to prevent himself from opening his heart to emotional pain.

Peter Dinklage was great in this film! It’s an emotionally-heavy role which he portrays to wondrous effect. I fully believed in both his personas: the one a tough guardsman with a moral code, and the other a hopeless romantic. Most stories would be content to have their lead be one or the other of these things. Cyrano embraces both sides of himself in equal measure and is all the better for it!

Kelvin Harrison Jr sings his heart out in Cyrano
United Artists

Kelvin Harrison Jr performed well as Christian for the material he was given. But I found Christian wasn’t so well fleshed-out as Cyrano and Roxanne. He showed some potential in one scene where he introduced himself to the town’s guards and revealed some of his backstory. But, after that, the only thing we ever hear him talk about is Roxanne and his love for her. That said: I still empathized with Christian because, even as someone who writes every day, my repertoire of words often disappears when I most need it…

The villain of this tale, Duke De Guiche was effectively creepy and off-putting, though not much more complex than that (although I suppose he ultimately just wanted his love returned). His desire to possess Roxanne by any means necessary made the schemes of Christian and Cyrano look diminutive by comparison. I didn’t recognize Ben Mendelsohn in this role at all! He camouflaged himself well in that flashy costume.

Roxanne (Haley Bennett) was a cool character! She arrived fully formed from her first scene and only built out from there. I quickly understood her to have complex layers. She maintains some wealth– but would throw it all away for love. Yet she feels obligated to marry for money until such a love comes along. She’s loyal to her friends, occasionally manipulative if it suits her needs, and can be easy to offend, etc. Roxanne is a whirlwind of personality– and one I found charming. I understand why so many men in this world love her.

Cyrano is full of good songs which I’m sure fans of musicals will enjoy. Got to be honest though: music rarely stands out for me. There’s just something about my brain which doesn’t let songs stick the first time I hear them… Even my all-time favourite musicals took me many listens before I developed an appreciation for their songs. So it’s a good sign that at least a few tunes from Cyrano stood out to me on first viewing!

The cast’s vocal performances were pleasant on the whole. Kelvin Harrison Jr was easily the film’s best singer (according to my ears, anyway). Peter Dinklage’s singing is the one aspect of his performance I wasn’t 100% sold on. Sometimes he sounded good, and others he would seemingly struggle. But I couldn’t tell if he was legitimately having a hard time, or just picked an unconventional delivery style, or if the songs he was given were written differently than everyone else’s.

Cyrano had some cool choreography. Some scenes were like you’d expect from a musical: background characters suddenly coming to life in grand shows of dance. But more of the songs were subdued, with characters’ body language telling the story. Though this was strange because it’s as if Cyrano didn’t want to commit to either a lavish or grounded style. I didn’t need dancing for every number, but some sequences had little to no flair whatsoever.

This film was packed with great dialogue scenes. Its story was a celebration of language’s beauty, and its words were packed with passion. Could some moments melodramatic? Yeah. But I was fully absorbed in the conversations. Cyrano‘s character relationships were nuanced, and complex, and dynamic.

Between good drama, Cyrano sprinkles in fun bits of comic relief. Most of the gags weren’t necessarily laugh-out-loud funny, but they contained a level of wit which I appreciated. Roxanne’s over-protective servant (Monica Dolan) was my favourite running gag.

Let’s take a moment to laud Cyrano‘s high production values! The set decorators did a particularly lovely job with the indoor scenes. I read the crew filmed in Sicily which I’d imagine would account for the beautiful street-set-scenes.

Peter Dinklage portrays Cyrano de Bergerac
United Artists

I know this version of Cyrano was adapted from a stage play. And it shows. This film feels more theatrical than movie-like. Though I have a hard time articulating why that is. Perhaps it’s the way the characters spoke, the relatively stilted blocking for most of the scenes, some of the sets? And this isn’t necessarily a criticism, because I like plays, and Cyrano isn’t bad as a film. But I wouldn’t be shocked if theatre-nerds liked this movie better than film-geeks.

Would you be surprised to know this movie contained a bit of action too? There wasn’t much of it, mind you, but a few sword fights go a long way to bolstering a film’s energy. The combat itself was just… alright. Nothing groundbreaking but competently helmed. And there’s a cool one-take action scene where Cyrano duels a tonne of guys all by himself. That sequence impressed me.

I enjoy Cyrano‘s positive messages about identity and first impressions! This story argues that one can’t judge people entirely on their attractiveness, what costumes they wear (be they Dukes or guardsmen), or for who they appear to be on the surface. Instead you should judge folks based on their words and actions– for those speak more clearly and more truthfully.

It also suggests that maintaining a poor self-image is detrimental too! Cyrano, as I said, self-sabatoges for the entire movie because he doesn’t believe himself worthy of Roxanne. Now, we know that’s not true. But he believes that lie. And that’s enough to cause him a great deal of misery.

For all the good of Cyrano, it’s hard to overcome the film’s frustrating third act… Cyrano loses big points from me here. But I can’t get into my specific issues without spoiling things for you. I’ll just say the second act ended with a compelling twist. Then I liked little afterwards. Certain plot-points took the story in unexpected directions which greatly bothered me

SIDE NOTE: To sugar-coat these complaints: I was only annoyed because I’d grown so invested in the story by that point.

And don’t complain to me if the narrative trajectory in question was in the original story as well. I don’t know. Maybe it was handled better there? I can only tell you that I cared not for its execution here!

I greatly enjoyed Cyrano till it lost steam and veered sharply off course for my taste. But I left the theatre inspired to better hone my language skills! Everything about this movie is poetic and filled with heart. It ought to rouse you at least a little, unless you’re an unabashed cynic.

Cyrano is a mostly pleasant experience (besides its third act) and it’s Worth a Watch.

What’s your favourite musical theatre movie adaptation? What did you think of Cyrano? Please share your thoughts in the comments (no spoilers please). If you have any ideas for future articles, or any questions, let me know. Also be sure to Like this article on Facebook and share if you enjoyed!

Till next time,

Joe Morin

By Joseph Morin

Joe's passion for film and entertainment began at 7 years old when his younger brother demanded to watch Duel of the Fates every day for weeks (on DVD). Joe admired the sequence so much, he decided to dedicate his life to film-making and storytelling. He has a degree in Cinema and Media Studies from York University. Joe loves DC superheroes (especially Superman), the first six Star Wars movies, and arguing about media with anyone who will listen.

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