Cyrano: The Last Romantic Vestiges of an Exhausted Cynic

Cyrano is one of the most romantic movies ever made, but it’s not quite a traditional love story in that nobody really finds true love in it. It’s all evasion, heartache, yearning. This is the romance of hidden thoughts and desires, of urges barely spoken (but often unabashedly sung), of a sweet pain we all secretly remember. It’ll take you right back to high school and college and all those other places where you had your heart shattered into a million pieces.”

Bilge Ebiri, Vulture

Here’s the perspective from which I write this. I’m almost 40 and while I happen to be coupled (which was never something I deliberately planned for), plenty of members of the generational cohort around me are single. Some married in their early twenties and realized how wrong for them those marriages were a few years later. For those who desire a relationship, dating has now been complicated for the better part of two years by a global pandemic.

People my age commonly have a certain air about them when it comes to dating. Maybe not bitterness, but matter-of-factness. Sometimes it’s, “I know ALL the types. Don’t waste my time.” Alternatively, I’ve seen, ‘What the hell, better take this ride ‘cos I don’t know when THIS will happen again,” as well as, “If this goes south it will hurt, but I’ve been through worse, I can take it.”

Then there’s my job, which, once again, has been bringing out my learning difficulties and resulting inferiority complex. I realize I was chosen to be where I am – but it’s also a truth that there are certain folks who are simply sponges for technical information, regardless of the manner in which it’s presented to them. These folks are much better at delivering what’s expected of them, than I am with my perpetual reflexive thought of, “Uhh….” whenever someone asks me a question.

So you’ll understand the frame of mind I was in when I took my existential loner butt to see Cyrano in a sparsely-populated theater this past Friday night.

Cyrano, based of course on Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac, the age-old tale of romantic love self-sabotaged by perceived inadequacy. Oh, and with a side of senseless warfare.

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: This will not be an objective review, if you can call it a review at all.

It continues to amaze me how off-the-wall, questionable-on-paper period pieces sometimes strike the exact right note for the contemporary moment.

I tend to avoid press going into a film, plus the marketing campaign for Cyrano was notoriously weak on the heels of its COVID-delayed release (which, when it happened, coincided with The Batman, the film my partner opted for on Friday night). So I didn’t know (or had forgotten) that the thing was a musical to begin with. As a result, despite being a musical theater baby, I was put off, probably even cringed, when the singing of unfamiliar songs and the floaty magical realism of the choreo began. I maintain that most of the movie would have worked better without musical numbers. That said, an episode in the latter half, which involves a scrappy regiment of guards reflecting on loved ones before being sent on a suicide mission, was even more poignant sung than it would have been spoken. Maybe, like Skins UK, Cyrano could have simply broken into song in the one place that especially called for it? (OK, that is probably a horrible idea.)

But any reservations pale in comparison to what the movie did right. Had I done preliminary research, I would have known of the soundtrack’s indie rock roots (members of The National were involved with all). Any musical missteps notwithstanding, the mere fact of their involvement would have been a clue into the ragtag, hangdog, independent spirit of the Cyrano this turned out to be.

No two ways about it: this movie brought out old demons. Dinklage, with his roguish-yet-vulnerable visage – the salt-and-pepper scruff and world-weary eyes that occasionally dared to light up with childlike hope, only to be crushed again – reminded me so much of the sympathetic parts of my (nearly six-foot-tall) ex that it hurt to watch him at times. (If this all seems a tad presumptuous, note I have the insider knowledge that this guy – like, I’m sure, scores of smart underdog white dudes – used to have Tyrion Lannister as his avatar.) Regarding my affectionate tone here: though I am healed for all intents and purposes, remember that I am also one of those saps whose several old scars always ache a little.

“Getting rid of [the prosthetic nose] has allowed Dinklage to deliver something far more truthful, and he leans into the wounded, dashing resentment of a man forever burdened with being the smartest person in the room.”

Clarisse Loughrey, The Independent UK

I’ll broach this next part by noting I’m someone who believes innocence is overrated. I don’t see anything lamentable about people, including children who are transitioning into adults, gradually filling up with the knowledge that may one day guard them against being suckers. But so much of pop culture has become so winking and jaded in its irony, its, “let me roast me before you can”, that a counterbalancer by nature like Yours Truly can’t help but finding the opposite of all that to be refreshing now and then. So I’ll just say it: this film was hella wholesome, deep down in its little black self-loathing heart.

The earnestness of this film, plus some other things I’ll get to in a sec, made me a freaking wreck.

I quietly ugly-cried throughout much of the movie, and I loudly ugly-cried in my car after, while listening to the film’s National-penned theme song, “Somebody Desperate.”

That wasn't me
I don't know who that was
That was somebody desperate
Someone in love

Why can't I tell anybody the truth?
I'm somebody desperate
I'm somebody just like you

-The National, "Somebody Desperate," from Cyrano (2021)

Let me circle back to the way I opened this whole thing: a part of me, and a part of many of my aforementioned generational cohort, is a little deadened. By practical acceptances. By the grind of making a living and paying off loans. By post-9/11, by numerous existential threats, by trying, white-knuckled, not to “get fooled again”. Deadened by whatever shitstorms came after we first received (or sent) a note on looseleaf asking, “Yes or No,” and sat rapt in the erotic potentiality that unfolded.

Many of us, for worse or for better, have stifled our capacity for reckless abandon.

I ugly-cried because somehow this confounded movie created a nerve-twinge in my dead part.

Speaking of twinges, I’ll avoid TMI here, but I have (and always have had) a thang for the thwarted, the unconsummated, the by-proxied – and it’s somewhat comforting to know that life hasn’t changed me too much. Acquisition pales next to yearning. Making out with the textured paper your brain-twin scrawled on remains a hundred times hotter to me than making out with a human. What can I say, it’s just how I’m wired.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge, as a lover of voluptuous villains and villain-songs, that the dastardly Duke in this one seemed a bit made of cardboard. A late attempt was made, via said song, to explore his psychology more deeply, hinting at an incel-ish, frustrated sense of entitlement; but it would have felt like less of an afterthought if (at the risk of making him slightly sympathetic) the soil that grew this dude had been better explored.

I’ve seen a few complaints about the ending – in particular, its abruptness – to which I say: if you don’t get it, I can’t make you get it (not to mention that it stays true to the play). To me, the ending, especially Cyrano’s last line, was – *chef’s kiss*

And so continued my trend of sitting among retirees soaking up retellings of classic lit while my peers are swilling super heroes. Once a tiny, old PBS child, always a tiny, old PBS child.

Here are a couple of beautiful reviews I whole-heartedly endorse.

Cyrano is Stunning (Vulture)

In ‘Cyrano,’ Haley Bennett’s Roxanne is an ‘outsider in an insider’s body’ (LA Times)
(^This one’s acutely intuitive and touches on something I was subconsciously aware of while watching, but didn’t think to articulate)

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