The romantic comedy genre has touched almost every imaginable environment or scenario, but I can’t think of one set in the world of opera. Director Ben Lewin’s “Falling for Figuro,” which follows rival opera singers who fall in love, may ultimately adhere to the expectations of the genre, but it also occasionally subverts them, and the result is a film that, while far from perfect, is charming and fun.
Danielle Macdonald stars as Millie, an American living and working in London. Everything seems to be going great for Millie, both personally and professionally: she has a great boyfriend, Charlie (Shazad Latif), and she’s just been offered a big promotion at the hedge fund company she works for. But after a night at the opera, Millie does something unexpected: she turns down the promotion and leaves her job to pursue her true dream of being an opera singer. Millie travels to the Scottish highlands to train under former opera-star-turned-teacher Meghan Geoffrey-Bishop (Joanna Lumley) for one year to prepare her for the Singer of Renown contest. But it turns out that Meghan is training another singer for the contest too: Max (Hugh Skinner), who also works as the cook at the run-down pub Millie is staying at, has been trying to win the Singer of Renown contest for years, and who resents Millie’s presence. But the more time they spend together, especially when Meghan prompts them to perform a piece together, the closer they get.
“Falling for Figuro” begins pretty predictably. Millie leaves her dull city job and boyfriend for the countryside, and initially struggles to fit in to the tight-knit local scene. And when she first meets Max, sparks definitely do not fly (at least not the romantic kind). And the tough Meghan is skeptical, but Millie soon wins everyone over with her natural talent and personality. As rote as some of these elements sound, “Falling for Figuro” plays around with a lot of them later in the film. It turns out that Millie’s job at the hedge fund company wasn’t that terrible; a scene later in the film flashes back to her former coworkers falling her progress through Charlie’s updates and cheering her on. This isn’t one of those incidences where the city is seen as inherently evil and the country is inherently good. And while Charlie doesn’t entirely understand Millie’s sudden decision, he’s at least outwardly supportive. But there are also story and character elements that don’t quite work. We never get to the heart of just why Millie loves opera so much; not that a person needs a concrete reason to love something, but perhaps if we understood her passion for it better, the decisions she makes throughout the film would have more impact. The development of the relationship between Millie and Max also feels like it escalates too quickly, while the dissolution of Millie and Charlie’s relationship also happens fast, almost like an afterthought. The film also has a strange sense of time; Millie supposedly trains in Scotland for a year before the contest, but it feels like she’s maybe only been there a couple of weeks, which is perhaps a factor in everything feeling like it’s moving too fast.
Macdonald, however, is charming, and her bubbly personality carries the film. She’s well-matched with Skinner, and while parts of their relationship feel rushed, their animosity and later their attraction to each other are palpable. Lumley rightly steals the show with her brazen personality, backing up every forthright remark with some insight, and her character’s mentor relationship with both Millie and Max helps guide them both throughout the film, forward in their singing and toward each other.
And of course the music throughout the film is lovely. Opera is often viewed by those who are only acquainted with it on a surface level as being perhaps a little staid, or difficult to connect to, but it only takes a couple of scenes for “Falling for Figuro” to show how wrong that belief is. There’s a lot of passion in the music, enough for anyone to get swept away by, even if they don’t comprehend the exact sentiment behind it. One of the most powerful scenes in at the very beginning of the movie, when we see Millie watching an opera, sitting in the audience enraptured, tears in her eyes. As much as “Falling for Figuro” is a love story between two people, it’s also a love story between a person and the music they feel so moved by.
“Falling for Figuro” will be released in theaters and on demand on Friday, October 1. Runtime: 104 minutes. Not rated.
Media review screener courtesy IFC Films.