What is worse than a musical? A historical musical. There are a few removes to be explained. First, Cyrano (2021) is a recent film based on a play written in 1897 called Cyrano de Bergerac, which is a fictionalized biographical work about a real seventeenth century French novelist of the same name. Confused yet? And for some mad reason some mad person decided to bring this all to the twenty-first century and toss some song and dance numbers into it. If they had a historical consultant on set, then that person needs to be locked up. Or do you believe that wars in the seventeenth century (despite the costuming, uniforms, and weaponry being from the wrong century) actually had “fronts?” My apologies if you enjoyed this movie. To be fair to it, it has all the schmaltz of a dramatic love story, but I will get into my issues with that later. I bring it up here only to say that I am guessing this is the only reason anyone sat through the entire nonsense. As for me, already predisposed against musicals, what else was I going to be paying attention to? The beautiful Italian scenery . . . even though it is supposed to be set in France?!
Okay, so, instead of the title character, Cyrano starts with the love interest, a spoiled brat, despite her family’s high but nearly destitute station, named Roxanne (Haley Bennett). Her maid, Marie (Monica Dolan), because of their lack of money, is urging her to accept a marriage proposal from a duke, De Guiche (Ben Mendelsohn). Because she is young and full of idealism, she declares she would rather marry for love than riches, though she is not above taking free tickets to the theater from him. Off she goes in his fancy carriage, and along the way she is spotted by Christian de Neuvillette (Kelvin Harrison Jr.). For him, it is love at first sight, and he follows her into the theater where they first lock eyes. Their staring is interrupted by the beginning of the play, but then that is interrupted by the one, the only, Cyrano de Bergerac (Peter Dinklage). He may be a little person, but he is mighty in sword and word, and he takes offense at the proceedings on stage. Then people in the audience take offense at his offense, and it becomes a whole thing. In short, Cyrano murders a man on stage, but it was a duel and everyone likes his words, so whatever, I guess. Everyone, that is, except for De Guiche. After the play, Cyrano is walking back to the barracks for the Guards, the regiment to which he belongs. He is accompanied by his friend and commanding officer, Captain Le Bret (Bashir Salahuddin), and to him Cyrano confesses his undying love for Roxanne. Captain Le Bret encourages him to admit his feelings, but he doubts that Roxanne could ever love somebody of his physical stature. His hopes are given a boost when Marie arrives to tell Cyrano that Roxanne would like a private word with him the next day. He anticipates that they will finally admit their feelings for each other. Instead, Roxanne tells her old friend that she is in love with Christian. Because Christian is a new recruit in Cyrano’s regiment, she makes Cyrano promise that he will look out for Christian. Cyrano does one better. As part of the agreement he makes with Roxanne, he informs Christian of Roxanne’s feelings and that she wants the young soldier to write. There is a small problem: Christian does not possess the skill with the written word that he believes she desires. To compensate for his lack of verbosity, Cyrano volunteers to write the letters for Christian. Cyrano’s flowing prose only makes her fall for Christian more deeply, much to Cyrano’s (annoying) angst. Yet, when they get a moment together, she finds that Christian the man is more tongue-tied than the written version. Because she wants “more,” she rebuffs Christian’s simple profession of his love. It takes Cyrano speaking through Christian in a Romeo & Juliet-esque balcony scene, to keep this love train barreling down the tracks . . . to complete disaster. At the same time, the rather persistent De Guiche tells Roxanne that he is sending the Guards to “the front,” grrr. In order to trick him into not doing so, she partially tells him she loves him and gets him to keep the Guards at home. You see? She is a spoiled brat who lies to get her own way. Well, she is soon hoisted by her own petard when De Guiche writes to tell her that he is coming back from “the front” (grrr) sooner than expected. Sending a priest ahead of him with the letter, it says that they will either marry that night or he will rape her. To prevent this, the forever tortured Cyrano stands by while Christian and Roxanne marry. De Guiche manages to walk in on the tail end of the ceremony, and promptly announces that the Guards will be sent to “the front,” (grrr). Once there, before going into battle, the rather dimwitted Christian finally figures out that Cyrano is in love with Roxanne. Suddenly, he is sickened by what he has done. In turn, he insists that Cyrano reveal the truth to Roxanne. He follows this up with a one-man suicide charge ahead of the attack the regiment is supposed to make, and is mortally wounded. As Christian lays dying, there is literally a “She loves you/no, she loves you” fight before Christian expires. Cyrano is wounded, too. We do not get to see the outcome of the battle, but instead jump ahead three years to wear a shattered Cyrano is writing letter after un-delivered letter to Roxanne to admit the whole sordid affair. Unsurprisingly, as he limps to their designated meet up place and still suffering from his wounds, it takes a face-to-face encounter for him to get the words out. And still he hesitates until Roxanne shows him Christian’s last letter. He is able to recite it from memory, and it shows her that it had been Cyrano all along. This comes just in time for him to die in her arms.
I think Cyrano was suggested to me because I am the Catholic film critic and there are elements of faith in the story. While I am gratified to see people going to Mass and nuns, they are momentary flutters in my Catholic heart before the next song comes on and it is time for me to look at Facebook. I promise I only did this a couple of times. My apologies, but I did not care really for any of the characters, except, perhaps, Christian. It took a while for me to warm up to him because he so easily went along with Cyrano’s thinly veiled plan to continue to express his feelings for Roxanne through the comfortable anonymity of an intermediary like Christian. When he finally figures out what Cyrano had been doing, he lives up to his name and suggests that they admit the sordid affair to Roxanne. I say that this is in keeping with his given name because God did not call us to keep our true feelings hidden from one another, especially when it comes to love. Of course, one can understand to a small degree Cyrano’s hesitation. He deals with enough societal abuse to have to face the possibility of rejection for his so-called “deformity” from the woman he worships. Yet, at the end, Roxanne says that she loves him anyway, so in other words, he wasted years of his life. Essentially, Cyrano dies for lack of love. They say that is what hell is like. God is love, and if you do not have it as Cyrano believes for so long, then that is hell. Instead, try doing what God wants of us and share your heart with somebody. In short, show them you care. The world will be a better place for it.
There are much better avenues for consuming the kind of lessons that Cyrano gives you in its annoyingly auditory and mind-bogglingly strange package. No offense to Ben Mendelsohn, who is terrific actor, but he should not be singing. As the film was coming to its end, I went online to look up information about the real works on which this is based. As I suspected, they could not get those correct. Clearly, I did not care for this movie. I am not sure why anyone would.