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It’s hard to fall for “Falling for Figaro”. This well-meaning but tense comedy, directed by Ben Lewin (“The Sessions”) from a stereotypical script he wrote with Allen Palmer, follows an oft-trodden film theme: You Can Make Your Wildest Dreams Come True, whatever the obstacles, if you take a risk and never give up. Was it that simple.
In the case of Millie Cantwell (Danielle Macdonald), a wealthy London fund manager who turns down a major promotion to become an opera singer, she is able to keep up with her happiness primarily because she has the money – seemingly limitless amounts. – to fund a year of living in the Scottish Highlands to study at inflated rates with monstrously obnoxious opera diva Meghan Geoffrey-Bishop (Joanna Lumley).
Millie may cry watching operas and have a passable singing voice, but her trajectory from star-eyed aspirant to skilled competitor demands as much of a leap of faith from the audience as it does from Millie herself. This is especially true as Meghan’s dubious teaching methods, which range from cruel berating to her students to suffocating them, don’t seem to explain or connect to Millie’s vocal enhancement; Meghan is more of a large device for conflict and laughter (of which there is little) than a genuine engine.
The film is also notable for presenting not one but two unconvincing romantic dynamics. There is little chemistry between Millie and her ponytailed boyfriend and colleague, Charlie (Shazad Latif), whom she summarily leaves behind to study in picturesque Scotland. We know he’s not a longtime player from the start when he slams a captivated Millie’s shoulder down during a live opera performance.
Then there’s the wayward and initially jealous Max (Hugh Skinner), a local handyman, cook and, down to Millie, Meghan’s only nominally retired student. Her goal, like Millie’s, is to win the next coveted “Singer of Renown” competition, whose formation brings together the two budding young singers and ignites a romantic spark. But, like many others here, it’s more superficial than transportation.
Macdonald (“Patti Cakes”, “Dumplin ‘”) lacks the brilliance and courage required here to keep us squarely on his side; it comes out of it more legitimate than serious. Skinner is much more winning and likeable in his role as an underdog, while Lumley, despite his brash efforts, is not well served by his underdeveloped part. Gary Lewis (as brilliant as the father in “Billy Elliot”) brings a rural charm to Ramsay, the owner of the pub-hotel where Millie is settling for her year in Scotland.
However, one cannot fault the skyrocketing music, which features some sort of greater opera hits such as Puccini, Verdi, Mozart, Donizetti and others. The virtuoso voices of Australian opera performers Stacey Alleaume and Nathan Lay are effectively dubbed for, respectively, Macdonald and Skinner.
“It’s love at first sight for Figaro”
Duration of operation: 1 hour 45 minutes
Playing: Begins October 1, Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica; Laemmle Town Center 5, Encino; Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena