As I write this, Peter Dinklage is opening off-Broadway in a production of Cyrano de Bergerac. James McAvoy is in rehearsal for another one in London while the great Canadian actor Tom Rooney just wound down a production at the Shaw Festival.
On stage, the title character has been played by Kevin Kline, Colm Feore, John Cullum, Christopher Plummer, Ralph Richardson, Derek Jacobi, Richard Chamberlain, Jose Ferrer and many more — and those are just in English translations. In addition to Ferrer, onscreen personifications — and variants — include those of Gerard Depardieu, Steve Martin (Roxanne) and Tyler James Williams (Let it Shine).
I could go on.
My point is that what playwright Edmond Rostand launched on stage in 1897 has become a leading French cultural export. Even people who don’t know Moliere from a molerat know the story of the guy with the long nose who helps a lunk lure a lass by supplying him with poetry.
Cyrano, My Love opened across Europe earlier this year and is now hitting the states. The title (changed from Edmond) underlines its obvious efforts to appeal to the Shakespeare in Love audience. While it has some of that film’s spunk, it doesn’t have its style — or Tom Stoppard’s screenplay. And while little is known of Shakespeare’s life — leaving it rife for the kind of speculation that infused Shakespeare in Love as well as All is True and the silly series Upstart Crow — Rostand’s life and the historic first production of his best-known play has a deep record.
Writer-director Alexis Michalik isn’t terribly interested in either history or historical context, though. Instead, the actor-turned-first-time-feature-helmer has constructed an open-hearted love letter to theater — one clearly penned by an unseasoned lover. Michalik piles on the coincidences and complications, underlines so many moments of inspiration for Rostand (Thomas Solivérès) that you can practically see a lightbulb repeatedly going off over his head, and allows for a few too many tell-don’t-show speeches about the glory of stage artists.
Yet even as the film loses its credibility, it rarely loses its charm.
That’s helped, in large part, by costumes (many, on- and off-stage) and sets (yes, of course we visit Moulin Rouge) that emphasize the delight rather than the darkness, even when the odds are piled against our literary hero. And Cyrano, My Love benefits greatly from a rich supporting cast. Oliver Gourmet is delightful as both actor Constant Coquelin and as Coquelin-playing-Cyrano. Clémentine Célarié offers some fun moments as Sarah Bernhardt, and Michalik himself gives himself a fun cameo as fellow playwright Georges Feydeau. The charming Alice de Lencquesaing, unfortunately, has to play Rostand’s wife, Rosemonde Gérard, as the stereotypical neglected-but-loyal spouse rather than the poet that she actually was.
And look, I got to the end of this review without a nose pun. That’s snot what you expected, is it?