Joanna Lumley is the star attraction in this romantic comedy about a young woman pursuing her dream.
Twenty-something Millie lives and works in London. She’s a very successful funds manager, owns her own apartment, drives a luxury car and has a superhot boyfriend in the form of the colleague who hired her in the first place and who adores her even though she now outperforms him and everyone else at work.
This much is established in the opening scene where the team assembles to hear the boss heap praise on the golden girl and offer her a major promotion. She smiles and says no thank you, I’m giving it all up to go off and learn to be an opera singer. Why? Asks the adoring boyfriend. Because a brilliant funds manager is, as she puts it in modern psychobabble, ‘not who I am’.
Because she’s starting late she’s advised to seek out the services of retired diva Meghan Geoffrey-Bishop (Lumley), who has a reputation as a bit of a dragon but has the runs on the board when it comes to coaching aspiring young singers into the big time. She already has a pupil – Max Thislewaite (Hugh Skinner who plays Prince William in The Windsors) – but she agrees to take Millie on because Millie has lots of money.
Most of the story is set in the picturesque Scottish highland village where Meghan lives and where lovable quirkiness abounds: the pub is called The Filthy Pig, and it’s the only place to stay or eat. Max works there as cook, waiter and general dogsbody to pay for his singing tuition. The publican and the villagers are suitably eccentric, their initial dourness concealing, inevitably, hearts of gold. A couple of highland cattle graze nearby, tossing their funny shaggy heads when a bum practice note is sounded. Cute.
Max and Millie are rivals in the singing competition for which Meghan is preparing them both, and Millie already has a boyfriend. There’s your obstacles-in-the-path-of-true-love that all romcoms must have. Falling For Figaro is a chasing-your-dream story too, and Meghan’s waspishness seems to the main, indeed the only, obstacle here – to both of them.
There’s no point criticizing a romcom for being formulaic, but where Falling for Figaro fails is that it doesn’t tie the formula together properly.
For one thing, we aren’t given enough reason to cheer for Millie. All romantic heroines should face some slings and arrows, but they seem to give Millie a total miss, so there’s nothing to elicit our sympathy.
It might have worked better if she was merely a good or an adequate funds manager, to underline the risk she’s taking in leaving her job. Or if there’d been a whiff of envy or a flicker of resentment from the workmates, but no, there are no naysayers. Noone to show up and prove wrong.
It might also have helped if Millie’s weight played some role in the story. Being Junoesque isn’t uncommon among lady opera singers and might even be an advantage. But in this story it’s not even mentioned, when it could have been used to counter, say, self-doubt or cruelty from rivals. It could have been part of her struggle and part of her triumph. Another blank drawn on sympathy.
As well, she’s not all that likeable. She’s even a bit nasty to the boyfriend. When he initially expresses mild disappointment (adoringly) at the prospect of her leaving him and their lovely affluent life together, she tells him he can either drink to her success or ‘go f**k yourself’, which I thought was a bit uncalled-for, and showed that she had, as my mother used to say, ‘tickets on herself’.
Joanna Lumley is perfect as the cranky retired diva, but her intense abusiveness seems in the end a bit pointless. It’s not as though her pupils need a kick along; they’re both super keen. Why does she behave like that when we know that deep down she’s on their side and proud of them?
The money thing doesn’t ring true either and doesn’t work as a joke. On the phone to Millie, Meghan makes a pretence of finding space in her busy schedule while we see her leafing through an empty appointments book. But why? Millie will soon find out she has only one other pupil. And if Meghan is as skint as she makes out, why wouldn’t she accept a new paying pupil straight away?
Other comic episodes sit awkwardly too: when Max as waiter plonks a plate of food down rudely in front of Millie in the hotel dining room, she asks ‘Is there a problem?’ Instead of this being used to develop the relationship between the two characters, the subsequent verbal exchange devolves into that hoary old ‘do-you-always-answer-a-question-with-a-question’ joke.
Millie is played by Australian actress Danielle MacDonald, who moved to LA at the age of eighteen to get into movies, and she’s had some success. But why is Millie cast as American? It has no bearing on the story whatsoever.
There’s the odd good line and the acting is good. The music – dubbed of course – is terrific. The moviemakers have emulated The Three Tenors and cherrypicked the best operatic arias, and you can’t blame them for that. But the dialogue doesn’t sparkle like it should in this kind of movie, and Falling for Figaro is not redeemed by its quirkiness.