Cyrano (2021)

A- SDG Original source: Catholic World Report

Among the many shrewd conflations made by Erica Schmidt in adapting Edmond Rostand’s play Cyrano de Bergerac as a musical, first for the stage and then for the screen, is a mashup of two virtuoso displays of Cyrano’s verbal flair in the play’s opening scene. In Rostand, when a boorish nobleman insults Cyrano’s famously prominent proboscis, Cyrano proceeds to humiliate him by tossing off a score of ingenious nose-related taunts he might have used, had he the wit. Then, in the duel that follows, Cyrano ad-libs a mocking ballad as he toys with his opponent before stabbing him.

In Joe Wright’s film, Cyrano — played by Peter Dinklage, who is married to Schmidt and originated her version of Cyrano on the stage — turns the mocking ballad into a perverse rap battle against himself. While crossing swords with his opponent, Cyrano flagellates himself with colorfully burlesque put-downs (“I told a girl once I loved her — crickets / She looked at me and said, ‘I suppose I could sell tickets’”). In the process, a novel theological theme emerges: disappointment at or anger with God. The bitterest line is the last, in which Cyrano declares himself “living proof that God has a sick sense of humor,” but the idea is present from the opening lines, in which he declares that his appearance at birth prompted a nurse to wonder what God had been smoking. In between there’s this aside: “Don’t be so tough on God; everybody makes mistakes!”

Directed by Joe Wright. Peter Dinklage, Haley Bennett, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Ben Mendelsohn, Bashir Salahuddin. United Artists.

Artistic/Entertainment Value

Moral/Spiritual Value

+2

Age Appropriateness

Kids & Up*

MPAA Rating

PG-13

Caveat Spectator

Stylized combat and battlefield violence; mild innuendo; limited profanity and cursing;

Even before the song (“When I Was Born”) begins, the theme is present:

God gave us all a heart and brain,
opened up we’d seem the same,
But when he made our outward frame,
Such infinite variety brought mostly pain.

The reference to “our outward frame” and “infinite variety” goes beyond the familiar rhinological grievance of Rostand’s original Cyrano, who, as Schmidt has noted in interviews, has often been played by fine-looking actors in varyingly silly prosthetic noses. (See José Ferrer in the 1950 US production and Gérard Depardieu in the definitive 1990 French version, as well as Steve Martin in the 1987 romcom Roxanne.) Schmidt’s key creative choice was to take the nose out of the equation: to leave the source of the protagonist’s self-consciousness, if not self-loathing, unstated, or nearly so. With Dinklage in the role — perfectly suited to his characteristic wary intelligence, witty delivery, and brooding charisma, though he and Schmidt agree that she didn’t write it with him in mind — the focus of Cyrano’s angst defaults to his achondroplastic dwarfism. With different casting, it could just as easily be race, weight, disability, or some other physical trait. (Race is ostensibly a non-issue here, given the movie’s “colorblind” casting.)

Drama, Musical, Romance