Cyrano: The Anatomy of a Failed Musical

Cyrano is the latest of the current wave of failed movie musicals. Like all the others released in 2021, it bombed at the box office, earning only $6 million out of a production budget of $30 million. That makes it one of the biggest bombs of a still-young 2022. It was director Joe Wright's attempt to update the musical but ended up with many elements that just didn't work.

Cyrano: Anatomy of a Failed Musical
"Cyrano" still: United Artists

Cyrano is a reworking of Edmund Rostand's 19th Century play Cyrano de Bergerac by Erica Schmidt, starring Game of Thrones alumnus Peter Dinklage in the title role. The musical was originally staged in New York City, starring Dinklage, who's married to Schmidt. Joe Wright professed that the movie was a passion project for him, and it was shot during the Pandemic on location in Italy. The musical repurposes the main character so that Cyrano's inferiority complex comes from his dwarfism rather than a big nose from the original French play. On paper, it works as a star vehicle for Dinklage, and the locations are extravagant, but after that, it fails in many ways.

The Music is Unmemorable

The best musicals have hummable tunes, earworms that you can't stop humming. The problem with Cyrano is that the tunes were entirely unmemorable and merely adequate. It's hard to remember any of them after the movie is over.

The Dialogue is Dull 

The dialogue was as unmemorable as the tunes, which is death for a story whose hero is known for his wit and wordplay. Nothing beats the opening 15 minutes that showcased Cyrano's virtuosity and panache as he publicly demolished the reputation of a mediocre actor, then showed his prowess at combat when he bests a vicious aristocrat who insults him and challenges him to a duel. Dinklage displays the complex nuances behind Cyrano's emotions as he takes on the fight and then kills his opponent in self-defense. The script deftly establishes Cyrano's abilities, reputation, and status in the city, including his enemies who would see him dead. After that opening, the rest of the movie falls flat. Nothing that comes after is as dynamic or surprising as that opening, and everything feels like an anticlimax. No film should deflate after its opening. It became lacking in real surprise or suspense. The characters frequently stated their feelings out loud without any real nuance of subtext, which made everything feel skin-deep.

The Acting Was Too Low-Key

While it was admirable for Wright to direct the actors to key their performances to a muted, naturalistic style instead of the usual heightened, extravagant way of musicals, this turned out to be a mistake. The result is a muted tone, and even the singing was as muted, which made the unmemorable tunes dull. Apart from Dinklage's charisma as Cyrano, only Ben Mendelsohn as the villain brings a dynamic energy to his spite and meanness after his rejection. This is possibly the most low-key performance he was ever directed to give.

The Story Just Isn't That Interesting

Perhaps the story of Cyrano hasn't aged well. The muted naturalism of the movie points out that this is a saga about a guy who gets friend-zoned. It is the most famous friend-zone story of all time and ultimately gets less interesting with the times. A story of a failed, unrequited love that's the result of a self-inflicted wound doesn't come off as particularly romantic in this version under Wright's direction. There was the overwhelming feeling that audiences just weren't interested. This version of Cyrano is downbeat all the way through, and who wants to see a downer musical?

Musicals Aren't In Right Now

The failure of Cyrano, largely ignored by the filmgoing audience, once again suggests that Musicals are just not the genre audiences are interested in right now. In 2021, In the Heights, Dear Evan Hansen, and West Side Story all bombed, with Cyrano joining the list. Streaming services from 2020 to 2021 were also full of musicals – Hamilton, Schmigadoon, Tick… Tick… Boom!, The Princess Diana Musical –  they weren't dependent on box office, so who knows how many people actually watched them. Those years felt like Hollywood was trying to forcibly start a musicals trend, but audiences voted with their feet.

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Adi TantimedhAbout Adi Tantimedh

Adi Tantimedh is a filmmaker, screenwriter and novelist. He wrote radio plays for the BBC Radio, “JLA: Age of Wonder” for DC Comics, “Blackshirt” for Moonstone Books, and “La Muse” for Big Head Press. Most recently, he wrote “Her Nightly Embrace”, “Her Beautiful Monster” and “Her Fugitive Heart”, a trilogy of novels featuring a British-Indian private eye published by Atria Books, a division Simon & Schuster.
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