The Guthrie is doing a run of Cyrano de Bergerac, which is my absolutely MOST FAVORITE PLAY, and I really want to go to it! Fittingly, Netflix also just released a movie that’s a modern day teenage rom-com retelling of Cyrano as well, and so this post was born!!
I don’t know why Cyrano de Bergerac (written by Edmond Rostand) is my favorite play, exactly. I am definitely more than a little in love with Cyrano as a character when I first read this play at 16. It’s probably the same part of me that would have picked Quasimodo over any of those other Disney princesses and heroes… There’s something about that highly capable, witty, totally amazing interior being wrapped in an exterior that doesn’t fit conventional ideas of beauty that speaks to me. There’s a message there that character is so much more important than physical attributes, and I like that there’s no ugly duckling transformation into a swan. There’s also an element of self-sacrifice on the part of Cyrano – he just wants Roxane to be happy, even if that means helping her get together with another man. And then he forms a friendship with his unwitting rival, and he’s basically just done. Ugh, it kills! A warning, if you haven’t read or seen the original – the ending is pretty sad.
Thankfully, due to the magic of retellings (most of which tack on a happy ending for swashbuckling Cyrano), I can enjoy my favorite story over and over again in new ways! I am always down for a retelling of Cyrano de Bergerac, so I’ll highlight a few of my faves for you. Let’s start with some movie versions, as those seem to be a little more plentiful:
Roxanne is a 1987 contemporary comedy film version with a happy ending added, starring Steve Martin and Daryl Hannah. In this version C.D. Bales (the Cyrano character) is the fire chief in a small town, whose one major flaw is his large nose. The girl he likes, Roxanne, is attracted to the sexy new fireman, Chris, so C.D. – being based on the best hero in basically ever – agrees to help him get the girl.
The Truth About Cats and Dogs is a 1996 contemporary gender-swapped rom-com retelling of Cyrano de Bergerac starring Uma Thurman, Janeane Garofalo, Ben Chaplin and Jamie Fox. Radio talk show host Dr. Abby Barnes (the Cyrano character) does NOT have the signature big nose, but she’s not conventionally pretty and doesn’t have a lot of self-confidence. So when Brian, a listener who falls in love with her voice over the radio, comes to the station and mistakes her pretty friend Noelle (the Christian character) for her, she lets the mistake stand and plays into it. In the original play Cyrano and Roxane are already really close, but this sort of mistaken-identities trope is a twist a lot of retellings use to explain why Cyrano is speaking through Christian. This is a hilarious movie and definitely worth a watch, just for baby Uma Thurman!
Let It Shine is a 2012 Disney Channel Original Movie in a teenage contemporary rom-com retelling. It stars an aspiring teenage musician named Cyrus DeBarge (the Cyrano character) who allows his friend, Kris, to use his music to win over their childhood friend, Roxie, who is a professional singer.
Sierra Burgess is a Loser is a 2018 Netflix original movie, and this contemporary teenage retelling is an interesting approach in which the popular Veronica (the Christian character) gives Jamey (the Roxane character), a football player from another school, Sierra’s phone number instead as a prank. Sierra (the Cyrano character) starts talking to Jamey knowing he’s got a wrong number, but they instantly click. Sierra doesn’t fit the conventional standards of beauty, and is plus-sized so which made me REALLY excited for this movie. She ends up recruiting Veronica to help her talk to Jamey. This retelling I didn’t love as much because Sierra really didn’t fit that selflessness that Cyrano exhibits, and instead is kind of a bitch (and only gets WORSE as the movie goes on…) Sierra Burgess is a Loser is pretty problematic, but still worth a mention (and a watch) for any die-hard Cyrano lover.
#Roxy is a 2018 contemporary teenage rom-com that basically did everything right. I LOOOOOVE this movie and think it’s my favorite movie retelling of Cryano de Bergerac. When Cyrus Nollen (the Cyrano character) joins forces with high school heart-throb Christian Newville to woo his own secret love Roxy Rostand, he unintentionally wreaks havoc as Roxy falls hard for the virtual dream-boy with Cyrus’ wit and Christian’s good looks. Cyrus has the GIANT chip on his shoulder about people mentioning his nose, and everyone is afraid he’ll skewer them with his hacking skills, much like they’re terrified of Cyrano and his rapier in the original. This retelling, out of all of them I gush about in this post, probably most closely follows the events in the original, despite being about a bunch of modern-day high schoolers, right down to Cyrus being about to devastate Christian right up until the moment that he finds out he’s the guy Roxy asked him to talk to for her. LOVE, heartbreak, smiles. The one major deviation is that this one doesn’t have such a tragic ending for everyone involved as the original.
There are retellings and Cyrano de Bergerac based stories in books as well.
Love in the Afternoon by Lisa Kleypas is one of my all-time favorite Cyrano retellings. In this gender-swapped version of the story set in Regency England, from the back cover blurb: “Captain Christopher Phelan is a handsome, daring soldier who plans to marry Beatrix’s friend, the vivacious flirt Prudence Mercer, when he returns from fighting abroad. But, as he explains in his letters to Pru, life on the battlefield has darkened his soul—and it’s becoming clear that Christopher won’t come back as the same man. When Beatrix learns of Pru’s disappointment, she decides to help by concocting Pru’s letters to Christopher for her. Soon the correspondence between Beatrix and Christopher develops into something fulfilling and deep… and when Christopher comes home, he’s determined to claim the woman he loves. What began as Beatrix’s innocent deception has resulted in the agony of unfulfilled love—and a passion that can’t be denied.”
Back to that contemporary high-school setting, Flawless by Laura Chapmanis a gender-swapped but otherwise fairly by-the-book Cyrano story, complete with Sarah (the Cyrano character) having some hang-ups about her big nose. Another deviation from the original is that Sarah is best friends with Kristen (the Christian character), and they both like the same boy so Sarah’s self-sacrifice is in helping her BFF go after the guy they both like (rather than the original where Cyrano is helping his love-interest, Roxane, get the man she thinks she wants).