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Laramie Movie Scope: Cyrano

A musical retelling of an old love story

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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December 6, 2021 – The story of Cyrano de Bergerac has been told numerous times since his death in the 1600s (yes, Cyrano de Bergerac was a real person who inspired all these stories). This latest movie is based on one of the many Cyrano de Bergerac-inspired plays, Erica Schmidt's stage musical Cyrano.

I really enjoyed this film right up to the end, to the point where it collapses into maudlin tragedy. The story is a very delicate balancing act between dramatic romance and melodrama, and here it slips over the edge into too much sentimentality. The story also has a believability issue that becomes worse over the long time period depicted in the movie.

Cyrano de Bergerac, played by Peter Dinklage (“The Station Agent”) is a man short of stature (four feet, five inches tall) but big in terms of heart, bravery and wit. He is good friends with Roxanne (played by Haley Bennett of “Hillbilly Elegy”) who is unaware that he has long been in love with her.

In a very delicately effective dramatic scene, Roxanne calls Cyrano to her in order to declare her love. Cyrano thinks that she is going to tell him that she loves him. Instead she reveals that she has fallen in love with a tall, handsome man she doesn't even know — a case of love at first sight.

Roxanne asks Cyrano to introduce her to the man, Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr. of “The Trial of the Chicago 7”) because they serve together in the French Army. She also asks Cyrano to help and protect Christian. The brokenhearted Cyrano can deny Roxanne nothing, so he complies with her requests.

Christian, it turns out, is a good man, and no fool, but he is not well educated and cannot write romantic letters to Roxanne, as she has requested him to do. Cyrano agrees to write the letters for him. This lets him declare his love for Roxanne through Christian. This way, he doesn't have to worry about Roxanne rejecting him because he is so short. It is a bittersweet relationship.

Roxanne is so taken with Cyrano's romantic letters, that she wants to meet Christian in person. Since Christian is not eloquent enough to impress Roxanne, Cyrano helps him, by speaking for him to Roxanne at a distance. This unlikely subterfuge works, and Roxanne agrees to marry Christian.

Roxanne has another suitor, however, the Count De Guiche (Ben Mendelsohn of “The King”). He is angry that Roxanne has rejected him in favor of Christian, and he also realizes that Roxanne has manipulated him into protecting Cyrano and Christian by keeping them out of battle. As their commander, he orders both Cyrano and Christian to undertake a suicide mission.

Music for this film was written by members of The National band, including the very moving song "Heaven is Wherever I Fall" sung by soldiers going into that suicide attack along with Cyrano and Christian. I liked the songs in the movie, and a couple of the actors, Kelvin Harrison Jr. and Haley Bennett, are pretty good singers, but some others are not.

The problem I had with this movie happens at the very end, which I won't give away, except to say the plot of the entire movie follows the plot of the 1897 Edmond Rostand play of the same name on which it is ultimately based. This was a time when the intelligence of women was not widely accepted. This plot depends on Roxanne being so shallow and unobservant that she falls for a handsome face, then fails to notice Cyrano's love for her, not just for a short time, but for years.

Roxanne, however, is not depicted as being shallow in this film. She is more of a modern woman. She is depicted as being romantic, sophisticated, and sensitive. This modern characterization of Roxanne doesn't match her actions. Christian is also depicted as being sensitive, romantic, and noble. He is emotionally smart enough to detect Cyrano's true feelings for Roxanne, while Roxanne does not. If Christian was more clueless in this movie, and his character is depicted this way in other versions of this story, it would be more believable.

This trio of noble, blameless people who manage to get themselves into a big mess is similar to other films directed by Joe Wright, such as “Atonement” and “Hanna.” Wright likes to have it both ways (characters who do terrible things to each other, yet are depicted as blameless, or nearly so). This kind of self-contradictory plot tends to strain credibility, and it is very annoying.

If this story ended more like it did Steve Martin's version of it, in “Roxanne” (1987) I would have liked it better. However, the story plays out like it did in 1897, with clueless Roxanne, remaining blind to reality until the final scene. What a waste.

I guess you can't blame Erica Schmidt for sticking to the original story, and leaving it in the time and place it was originally set, even though that makes it a poor fit for modern times. Peter Dinklage (Erica's husband) gives a wonderful performance in this film, and deserves whatever awards come his way. I liked this film right up to the end, almost, and because of that, I give it a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff (no extra charges apply). I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2021 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at dalek three zero one nine at gmail dot com [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]