As fizzy as a freshly poured glass of Perrier-Jouët, though considerably less complex, writer-director Alexis Michalik’s “Cyrano, My Love” attempts to give the “Shakespeare in Love” treatment to the timeless French play “Cyrano de Bergerac,” with shamelessly derivative yet undeniably entertaining results. Part fancifully fictional account of the play’s conception, and part “Waiting for Guffman”-style depiction of the wild antics behind its first production, “Cyrano” was released in France earlier this year, and its undemanding immersion into flashy Belle Époque settings and farcical hijinks with the thinnest topcoat of literary credibility could well earn it an audience Stateside.
According to Michalik’s telling, twentysomething playwright Edmond Rostand (Thomas Solivérès) is a talented wordsmith who nonetheless couldn’t be more out of step with the theatrical tastes of 1890s Paris. Fastidiously mustachioed, stubbornly highbrow and eternally agitated, we’re introduced to him as his latest play has just folded, with a passer-by helpfully identifying him to a companion as “a young poet who writes flop plays.” (In a curiously abandoned thread, the struggling playwright tries to console himself with a visit to an early motion picture theater, only to immediately sense the eventual decline of his chosen medium.)
A few years later, Edmond is facing both mounting debts and writer’s block, while his wife Rosemonde (played by Alice de Lencquesaing, and here depicted as a stock supportive spouse with no indication that she was also a serious poet) finds her onetime admiration of his gifts curdling into impatience. He schedules a meeting with the fatuously enthusiastic actor Constant Coquelin (Olivier Gourmet, consuming every ounce of scenery with infectious panache), and though Edmond has yet to write a single line of his new play, he manages to sell Coquelin on it with an improvised draft of “Cyrano’s” famous nose monologue.
Suddenly granted a lifeline, but with no idea how to flesh out his patched-together pitch into an actual play, Edmond finally finds his inspiration when he’s drawn into a bizarre love triangle with his handsome yet unrefined actor friend Leo (Tom Leeb). Leo is in love with a beautiful, idealistic costume designer named Jeanne (Lucie Boujenah), and when the two spot her lounging on a balcony, a hidden Edmond begins to feed his friend romantic lines of verse with which to woo her.
You can probably see where this is going. Though he’s already scrambling to meet his three-week deadline to get a finished “Cyrano” up and running, Edmond agrees to strike up a literary seduction campaign with Jeanne in Leo’s stead. Soon they’re exchanging a letter per day, then two letters per day, and Edmond starts to develop feelings for her as she becomes his unwitting epistolary muse. This thread of the film, in which Edmond manages to write “Cyrano” as he’s busy living it, quickly starts to feel forced – especially as it requires Jeanne to remain frustratingly naïve for far too long – and by the film’s midway point, Michalik appears to have written himself into a corner.
Fortunately, “Cyrano” is happy to forget all about this when it wants to, and shift the focus to the frantic goings-on at the theater. Here, Michalik simply crowds the scene with every expected element of backstage farce: the irritable stage diva with impossible demands (Mathilde Seigner); the shady, meddlesome moneymen (Marc Andréoni, Simon Abkarian); the hopeless nepotism hire (Igor Gotesman); the sclerotic stage manager (Dominique Pinon); and even a cocky real-life rival for our playwright hero in Georges Feydeau (played by the director himself with wicked élan). There’s nothing here that’s remotely novel, but damned if it doesn’t mostly work as opening night approaches and the motley company dodges one catastrophe after another.
Production designer Franck Schwarz rarely fails to provide some morsel of period eye candy in every scene – though thoroughly modern in sensibility, the film does quite well to craft an appealingly well-scrubbed approximation of turn-of-the-century Paris – and Romain Trouillet’s almost terminally jaunty score helps remind the viewer exactly how seriously they should be taking all of this.