The more Cyrano's release date kept getting pushed back, the more excited I became for the film (directed by Joe Wright). While I've always been familiar with the basics of this story and while I have read the play, it's been a few years since that reading. Rather, however, than do a reread in preparation for the film, I decided it would be best to go in and simply let it be what it would be. So I'm offering very little adaptation analysis. My spoiler-free commentary is that they did a fantastic job and created a fresh take that also gave relevant thematic material for the modern audience.
Now for more detail that may include spoilers if you don't know the story basics. I had no familiarity with the musical from which they based the film. Style-wise, I would call it a less traditional musical. When the actors sang, it felt not so much like they were breaking into musical numbers as that their words had too much emotion for regular speech and needed to be sung in order to fully impart their hearts. That is, I fully bought in to the creative choices. This highly emotive style reminded me more of how characters sing in an opera than in a musical (in general) (and I of course don't mean in terms of musical style). It also goes well with the story's focus on poetic language: the words are so full of meaning that they become musical notes.
And I really enjoyed the way in which the songs became anthems for all the people instead of just our main characters. Christian's song upon seeing Roxanne also reaches the lips of the people in the crowd at the theatre. Cyrano's advice to the baker about his poetry becomes a whole scene with the various people who work at the bakery. And, most movingly, we see the different men on the front line singing the last words they will write to their loved ones. All of these inclusions show the universality of the longing for love and human affection. Everyone has a story and everyone has feelings about the people in their lives. When Christian, Roxanne, or Cyrano sings, their words are very personal to him/her and yet they are also reflections of their very personal longings of all of our hearts. And I do want to take a moment to especially appreciate Haley Bennett's vocals; if we're asking for a double balance of emotion and aesthetics, there it is in "Someone to Say."
As for the casting of Peter Dinklage, this was a smart way to reinterpret the adaptation and also to give a good role to a good actor. Although our modern sensibilities do still have preconceived ideas of beauty standards, we would find an overt plot based around a man's ugly nose a little too much, unless it were a tongue-in-cheek sort of comedy. But to judge over height, well, we can understand that pretty easily because it's undeniably true. We may appreciate actors like Peter Dinklage or Warwick Davis for the roles we've seen them in, but we all know that there is a real struggle to get cast in good roles when you don't (literally) fit the mold (and that's to say nothing of their personal lives). So we can understand Cyrano's real heartbreak in knowing that he is judged by his physical appearance, as the actor behind him also is.
And yet. We're not left there. This is a hopeful story. We have Cyrano, who feels like he can never be fully accepted. We have Roxanne, an orphan who longs to be loved. And we have Christian, who indeed enters the scene full of hope and brightness. In Christian's encounters with Roxanne and Cyrano, he begins to sicken under the lie he lives. We started out the story with Roxanne singing about wanting love; she wants something other than the false courtships and marriages of convenience. She wants something real. And so, too, does Christian. In the end, he realizes he would rather die than continue the lie. If he is to be loved, he wants to be loved for himself. If he has no skill with words, then he wants to be loved with full knowledge of his lack of poetry. He feels, in a way, just as used as Roxanne was by De Guiche.
What did we learn from the tragedy? A hopeful message. We learn that Christian should have faced Roxanne as himself. If she rejected him, then he could have moved on and he wouldn't have led either her or himself on. He could have found love elsewhere, instead of just choosing Roxanne for her beautiful face. And Cyrano should have been honest with Roxanne. She loved his letters and she loved him as a friend. If she had realized sooner that the two went together, then she could have fully realized the love and connection for which she longed. And Cyrano could have embraced her acceptance instead of focusing on the world's rejection.
The vehicle is a delightfully sappy love story. The message is simple: be yourself and be honest and that is how you will find true relationships with others. And that message never gets old.