Review – Tyrion Lannister Sings? (“Cyrano”)

Based on Erica Schmidt’s 2018 stage musical (she wrote the screenplay and is married to Peter Dinklage), this movie is based on Edmond Rostand’s classic Cyrano deBergerac, the vain and highly-skilled swordsman whose large nose kept him from wooing the love of his life, Roxanne. In this adaptation, however, well. . .

Dinklage, of Game of Thrones fame, reprises his Cyrano stage role, playing the tragic figure, Cyrano deBergerac. But whereas every movie & stage version has Cyrano sporting a huge nose as part of his character’s flaw–the reason why he fights with such ferocity–this Cyrano is a little person, has a regular-sized nose, but is still lethal with a blade. Oh, and did I mention it’s a musical, too? Yeah, there’s that. Anyway, the story’s plot remains the same: Cyrano is known far and wide for his temper, acerbic wit, and swordsmanship, and puts it on display at the theater one night, irking the pompous & lecherous Duke deGuiche (Ben Mendelsohn).

Y’see, the Duke has the hots for the lovely Roxanne (Haley Bennett, also reprising her stage role), but she has cast her eyes on the new soldier in town, Christian deNeuvillette (Kevin Harrison, jr). But speaking to him is a faux pax, so she tells her childhood sweetie, Cyrano, of her love for the cadet, much to Cyrano’s dismay, as he is secretly and deeply in love with Roxanne. As a favor to her, Cyrano gets Christian to communicate with Roxanne, but Christian can’t speak eloquently, so Cyrano first writes (as Christian) beautiful letters to Roxanne then, in a moving balcony scene, he speaks & sings his heart’s true feelings for her.

Meanwhile, the Duke demands that Roxanne marry him and, in a surprise turn of events, she ends up marrying Christian instead! Enraged by her betrayal of affection, he sends Cyrano, Christian, cadet leader and Cyrano’s beastie, LeBret (Bashir Salahuddin), and all their troops to the war to die. Mental note: do not piss this guy off! Much like one of Shakespeare’s tragedies, this doesn’t have a happy ending, but at least you got some nice songs here and there. Erica Schmidt has taken the Rostand story, or the 1950 movie version with Jose Ferrer, and picked it apart, giving us the choice parts of the story and adding the music for flavoring. But does it work?

Being very familiar with the source material, I can say the two-hour screenplay has cut out much of the “fun” stuff that Cyrano does, like his wicked duel while spouting poetry about his nose, and stalling deGuiche by disguising himself as a “moon man”. Schmidt, in adapting her own stage play to the screen, has done a great job but left too many plot threads hanging, and has a few choppy, forced scenes that don’t work. But! When they do work, hoo-boy! It’s magical, moving, and worth the price of admission. Just watching Dinklage and Bennett trade-off lines together is like music, and very often is, with them breaking into song on occasion. This brings me to the singing part.

Bennett has a beautiful voice, as does Harrison, jr., who can hold a tune with bravado. Dinklage, who is an exceptional actor and deserves an Oscar for this performance, is on par with Rex Harrison’s talk-singing in My Fair Lady. He’s good, but he’s no Hugh Jackman. Hey, at least he wasn’t auto-tuned like Emma Watson was, right? Oh, and Mendelsohn? Well, let’s just say there’s a reason he’s given only one song! The songs are, for the most part, pretty standard with a few exceptions. “Someone To Say” (with a full-blown dance number, no less), “I Need More”, and the hauntingly heart-breaking “Wherever I Fall” are amongst the most memorable.

The other wonderful thing about this movie is the sumptuous production values, cinematography, lavish costumes, and on-location shooting in Noto, Sicily. Director Joe Wright (Darkest Hour, Pan) shoots this movie like a bi-polar cameraman. His street fight scenes are a mess, but his two-shot framing is perfect. His close-ups in one scene are waaaaay too close-up, then shows a sweeping war shot that is cold, bleak, and looks stunning. It goes back and forth like this throughout the movie. Odd. But don’t let this put you off on seeing this unique spin on the classic tale; if only for Dinklage and Bennett.     

**Now Showing Only In Theaters

Roxanne (1987)

If it’s a twisted tale of Cyrano deBergerac you want, look no further than this hilarious comedy, written and starring the brilliant Steve Martin. It took Martin three years and over 25 drafts of the script before he got it right, but the end result is up on the screen, and it’s glorious.

Set in the beautiful mountains of Boulder, Colorado (but filmed in British Columbia), we meet Charlie “C.D.” Bales (Martin), the fire chief of a small town who is intelligent, witty, charismatic, and athletic. The problem is, he is sensitive about his abnormally large nose, which most know not to talk about. He wants to have it surgically altered, but he can’t because he’s allergic to the anesthesia. Charlie is close to many residents, especially his god-sister, Dixie (Shelley Duvall), who owns the local diner. One day, the beautiful Roxanne Kowalski (Darryl Hannah) enters the town and, being an astronomy student, has Charlie help her with a telescope. Naturally, Charlie is smitten with her.

Roxanne adores him as a friend, but is physically attracted to Chris McConnell (Rick Rossovich), a handsome man-beef, but dim-witted fireman in Charlie’s care. Chris sees Roxanne in a book store, but gets physically ill when he tries to meet her one-on-one. Chris begs Charlie for help and, after writing a few letters to her under Chris’ name, the two decide to go all out using hidden microphones so that Chris can repeat Charlie’s words to Roxanne. After a rocky start, the ruse works and Roxanne falls for Chris. But all those fake letters and go-between messages have consequences and pretty soon Roxanne figures out the truth, and boy! She is none too happy!

While the classic Edmond Rostand story ends in tragedy, this one has a happy ending. There are SO many funny moments, gags, and excellent scenes that showcase Martin’s flair for writing. Take for example the bar scene where a drunk says that Charlie has a “big nose”. As a hush falls over the crowd, Charlie expertly rebounds with not one, but twenty hilarious “better” insults that the drunk should have thought of! Martin also acts the hell out of this movie, shifting from comedy to heartbreak with ease. Rossovich is terrific as the numbskull hunk Chris, and Hannah is wonderful as the woman in the middle. For fun, there’s Fred Willard as the loopy Mayor Deebs who comes up with weird ideas to get people to visit the town.

Look sharp and you’ll also catch in the firefighters Michael J. Pollard, Damon Wayans, and Matt Lattanzi as well! Fred Schepisi (Mr. Baseball, Six Degrees of Separation) directed this farce with a steady hand, knowing how to milk the laughs and get the most from all the sight gags. Although based on the classic novel & stage play, Martin referenced several key moments from the book and mined some great laughs from them. Fast, funny, and loaded with Martin’s unique wit and outrageous comedic timing, this movie was during Martin’s “Golden Age” when he was on fire, writing films like Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, The Man With Two Brains, Three Amigos, and L.A. Story.

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