Synopsis: A brilliant young fund manager leaves her unfulfilling job and long-term boyfriend to chase her lifelong dream of becoming an opera singer in the Scottish Highlands.
Stars: Danielle Macdonald, Hugh Skinner, Joanna Lumley, Gary Lewis, Shazad Latif
Director: Ben Lewin
Running Length: 105 minutes
TMMM Score: (3/10)
Review: I watched Falling for Figaro on a rainy day hoping that it’s frothy premise and appealing stars would bring a little sunshine to an otherwise dreary day. Here was a film that I would consider a slam dunk on paper. You have extremely likable star Danielle Macdonald in the lead who has shown in a short amount of time that no matter what role she’s playing, you’re apt to root for her regardless of if you’re supposed to or not. The Australian actress has a charm about her that’s undeniable and it’s only a matter of time (and, I think, an award nomination) before she’s finally recognized properly. Supporting her would be the master of dryly detached humor Joanna Lumley and her leading man is scruffy English lad Hugh Skinner. Throw in the Scottish Highlands as your backdrop and big dreams of opera stardom into the mix and there’s a movie perfect for a pick-me-up kind of mood.
Disappointingly, Falling for Figaro stumbles out of the gate and continues to trip over itself for the next ninety minutes, eventually becoming a staid and painful example of why romantic comedies are so difficult to navigate and how romantic dramadies are almost better left for only the most skilled filmmakers. Instead of the breezy fun and low commitment this promised to be, the viewer is left increasingly uncomfortable with stars playing opera hopefuls that are clearly not singing and a general lack of overall conviction from anyone.
All Millie (Macdonald, French Exit) has dreamed of is to sing opera but a career in finance took precedence and now she finds herself an American working for a London firm and cozying up with her boss and boyfriend Charlie (Shazad Latif, The Commuter). Just as she’s being offered a more permanent position with a lucrative pay increase, she chucks it all (but keeps supportive Charlie on retainer) to give opera a shot for a year. Now, I know several friends who have worked for years in opera, and they’ll tell you what Millie’s professional friend tells her – it’s rare for anyone to start and become a pro so late in life…especially without any training. Millie’s self-assurance and eye on the prize attitude is a plus and she’ll need it as she dives into a whole new world starting at the ground level.
Her friend advises the best way to fast-track to success is to win a “Singer of Renown” competition and land a part with a major opera company, and a former opera star now teacher like the semi-retired Meghan Geoffrey-Bishop (Lumley, The Wolf of Wall Street) is just the one who could help her do it. Living in a tiny town at a farmhouse left to her by a fan, the droll diva is already working with Max Thistlewaite (Skinner, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again) who has been trying to win the same competition for years. Of course, Millie gets off to a rocky start with both upon her arrival. Her singing isn’t up to snuff, but her money stream appears never-ending, so Meghan is happy to teach her and take her dough while Max bristles that Meghan’s attention is drifting from him to someone new and less experienced.
What writer/director Ben Lewin (The Sessions) has forgotten in his script (and direction) is to create any real problems for our lead. In even the most mundane of romantic comedies, the leading lady must walk through some sort of fire to come out the other side changed but Millie has a wonderful boyfriend and great job at the beginning, can afford to take a whole year off and sing the days away in the countryside, and becomes an opera aficionado quite quickly. And she nets another paramour in the process (Max, duh). It makes the character less complex and, therefore, less interesting. It’s not Macdonald’s fault and credit goes to her for bringing a sliver of energy to the role, but there’s a sense that she knows there’s something missing and it’s not just her own singing voice.
We have to address the vocals in this film because it has some of the absolute worst dubbing I’ve seen outside of Italian horror films or low-budget martial arts movies of the ‘80s. There’s a lot of opera singing going on in the movie and anytime someone opens their mouth, the music is never convincingly matched to their mouths. Like, ever. It’s incredibly distracting and instantly takes you out of whatever mood the filmmakers were trying to convey. How nice would it have been for Lewin to cast actual opera singers in these roles and then see what happens? Something tells me the movie would have been improved by a large margin if we believed Millie was getting better by believing the actress playing her was singing. Again, this is no disrespect to Macdonald because she’s doing her job well. This is just one of those, “Opera singers can act as well, you know!” kind of moments.
As it rounds the bend to an especially strained and painful final act (and oh, that epilogue…yeesh!), I felt more like running from Figaro than falling for it. There’s something just all around off with the movie and it’s not just the mismatched vocals. The comedy isn’t quite sharp enough, the drama isn’t deep enough, and the romance not convincingly established. All the elements are there…they just brought the curtain up before everyone was truly ready to perform. I could see Falling for Figaro being re-worked as a stage play/musical and being far more successful and entertaining – at least then you’d get actors that were actually singing.