.Little Big Man: Peter Dinklage is the only reason to see ‘Cyrano’

Watching Cyrano is like sitting down to a half-gallon banana-split sundae loaded with a fudge-marshmallow-butterscotch-strawberry avalanche of toppings, then drizzled with Mount Gay rum and served in a flaming bowl ringed with 4th of July sparklers.

Anyone who can sincerely say “Yummy!” to that has our best wishes for a speedy recovery. Director Joe (Darkest Hour) Wright’s latest effort will probably make them sick one way or another. But very possibly they’ll also wake up in the middle of the night with a smile on their face to go along with the glucose spike. That’s due to Peter Dinklage.

The little-man actor, an audience favorite for his work in Game of Thrones and numerous other light-hearted—as well as serious—properties, may be the ideal player to tackle playwright Edmond Rostand’s much-filmed 1897 tale of the brave, sensitive, dizzyingly witty Cyrano de Bergerac, whose physical appearance—in the original, he has a large nose—hinders his romantic aspirations and prompts endless bouts of heartache. Diminutive Dinklage is the best reason, really the only reason, to spend any time with this big-budget, blunderbuss-of-a-movie musical. But one warning: As with super-duper ice cream creations, a tiny bit of Cyrano goes a long way.

Adapted for the screen by Wright and screenwriter Erica Schmidt, Dinklage’s wife, the new version of Rostand’s classic—one of the last high-profile 2021 releases to open in the February movie graveyard—offers an embarrassment of high-quality production values. The “Antique Old World” settings, shot on location in Sicily and augmented electronically to the nth degree, are crowded with bric-a-brac and hundreds of speaking characters and extras, all heavily made-up 18th century-European-style. Everyone is extremely busy.

Cyrano (Dinklage) has been in love with ditzy coquette Roxanne (Haley Bennett, wife of the director) since they were children together, but Roxanne’s familiarity with Cyrano breeds contempt. As the film plays out she studiously dismisses the little man’s subtle, yet increasingly desperate, attempts to get her attention. She’d rather throw herself at the dashing-but-inarticulate Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) or settle for a popinjay, the aristocratic bore De Guiche—an unrecognizable Ben Mendelsohn. Roxanne’s family is rushing her into marriage for their own financial gain, and she expresses her disappointment with a pallid song. One of many.

As with virtually all other versions of the original play, Roxanne becomes smitten with Cyrano’s lyrical romantic patter, yet never tumbles to the fact that he is planting his own sentiments in another man’s mouth. He lacks confidence. She’s a bit thick. Captain of the Guard Cyrano, a swordsman extraordinaire, is actually more attractive than his rivals but can’t overcome his feeling of inferiority. If we look at it closely, this style of chivalric romance is a cruel charade.

Cyrano suffers from the Les Misérables syndrome: it’s crowded yet essentially empty, except as rapidly moving scenery punctuated by our hero’s unrequited love pangs. Wright’s film is adapted from the off-Broadway musical that starred both Dinklage and Bennett. Either despite or because of that, the songs—music by Aaron and Bryce Dessner, lyrics by Matt Berniger and Carin Besser—are almost uniformly forgettable. Only the wartime lament, “Heaven Is Wherever I Fall,” succeeds. None of the cast members can especially carry a tune. We’ll forgive that from Dinklage, because his charisma extends to everything else about him—including his speaking voice and his swordplay choreography.

Cyrano’s personality gratifyingly dominates the candied spectacle. He’s the perfect underdog and always has been, no matter who plays him—Steve Martin or Gérard Depardieu, anyone? To Roxanne he’s a harmless best friend and nothing more, until she learns the truth. Where she’s oblivious, Cyrano is pathetic—but always nobly pathetic. In the end, the movie wastes its energy every moment its leading man is not on screen. All the aforementioned failings are on one side, and Peter Dinklage is on the other. Dinklage wins.

In theaters beginning Feb. 25.

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