Nominated for Best Costume Design at the 94th Academy Awards, it got a limited release in December, which was only one-week in Los Angeles. However, it was made available in theaters across the country at the end of February. Most predictions have this film listed last. The costumes are very well done, as director Joe Wright has experience with period pieces, particularly period pieces set in the 19th century, such as with Pride & Prejudice (2005). One of the opening scenes is about the female protagonist getting dressed, so the gowns and the attire are in the forefront to some degree. There’s some thematic resonance, as the film, an adaptation of the Edmond Rostand play, is about superficial or outward appearances, even though those outward appearances aren’t technically about clothing.
Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones and The Station Agent) stars as Cyrano, a soldier who is also a dwarf. His short stature hasn’t stopped him from rising in the ranks and being one of the best swordsman in the area. He serves in the army but he also performs on stage at a theater. Except, the stage act doesn’t appear to be an act and things go too far, but there’s an explanation as to why. It’s also said that Cyrano is childhood friends with a woman with whom he’s been secretly in love, presumably for a while, but Dinklage is in his 50’s and the actress playing the woman in question is in her 30’s. The ages of the characters aren’t stated explicitly but if we went by the ages of the actors, there’s a 20-year gap that makes it seem unlikely they would be childhood friends. Yet, one has to suspend disbelief in regards to that.
Haley Bennett (Swallow and The Magnificent Seven) co-stars as Roxanne, the aforementioned childhood friend to Cyrano. Somehow, she doesn’t know that Cyrano is in love with her. One day, she meets a new soldier who comes to serve in the same troop or regiment as Cyrano. She sees this new soldier and claims to have fallen in love at first sight. She decides to go to Cyrano and use Cyrano as an intermediary. It’s not clear why she wouldn’t approach the new soldier herself, but it probably has something to do with old world traditions. Yet, she has no trouble going to Cyrano.
Kelvin Harrsion Jr. (The Trial of the Chicago 7 and The High Note) also co-stars as Christian, the new soldier with whom Roxanne has fallen in love. She knows nothing about him, except that he’s very young and handsome, more age-appropriate for sure. It’s revealed that he too is a really good fighter. He has good physicality. Unfortunately, he admits to not being very well educated and not good at speaking or writing. Harrison is Black, which makes Christian a Black man too. The color blind casting is quite progressive, but it’s slightly disturbing that this film would basically depict a Black man as uneducated and only good for his physicality.
In John Singleton’s Higher Learning (1995), it’s pointed out that Black men are often used or merely seen as nothing more than a “dumb athlete.” Singleton was pointing out how Black men aren’t seen as being capable of anything intellectual. He was pointing out how Black men have been stereotypically seen only for their physicality, which is a racist trope. Singleton’s film pushed back against this trope. Wright’s film instead feeds into it. Over 25 years later, it’s sad to see a film feed into a racist trope.
However, even if one disregards this trope and accepts Christian’s depiction, there’s still an issue with the construction of this story and how it plays out. The main problem is that Cyrano believes that Roxanne won’t love him because he’s not handsome or good-looking. This belief stems from him being a dwarf or having the short stature that he has. Why his belief wouldn’t stem from him being 20 years her senior is beyond this film’s scope.
The screenplay by Erica Schmidt provides us with no evidence that would support his belief. Whether or not we accept that Cyrano is Dinklage’s age, that of his 50’s, there is no evidence to support he’s lived as long as he has without ever having a relationship with a woman. There’s no evidence to support the fact that he’s been rejected by women because of his height. If the film had shown us this rejection or failed relationships with females, then it might have been easier to accept his belief that Roxanne would have a bigotry against him or a discrimination.
Schmidt’s screenplay also possesses an inherent hypocrisy, which it could have overcome, but it doesn’t. The hypocrisy is that Cyrano believes that because he’s not as handsome as Christian that Roxanne would never love him. However, if Roxanne herself were not beautiful, would Cyrano be in love with her? Yes, there’s the idea of love at first sight, but Roxanne herself later argues that she needs more than just the superficial or whatever that love-at-first-sight feeling was. Christian claims to be in love with Roxanne also, but he never gets to know her beyond that superficial. Cyrano is supposedly a childhood friend, so presumably he knows her well, but it made me wonder if she were not beautiful, would he still feel the way that he does?
One thing that confused me is that Duke De Guiche, played by Ben Mendelsohn (Darkest Hour and Animal Kingdom), knows about Cyrano’s writing. The Duke even offers Cyrano money to be published. It begs the question as to why Roxanne didn’t seem to know about Cyrano’s writing. Allegedly, they were childhood friends and she apparently is a lover of literature. She was even getting letters from Cyrano but didn’t put together sooner that it was Cyrano writing them. The deception never seemed to make sense, not simply from Cyrano’s perspective because he was essentially catfishing someone whom he assumed would reject him and Roxanne not realizing sooner about the deception didn’t speak to her intelligence.
Rated PG-13 for some strong violence, suggestive material and brief language.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 3 mins.
In select theaters, including Rehoboth Beach and Ocean City.