Perusing the options at Geena Davis’ 2021 Bentonville Film Festival, one title immediately caught my eye: an opera singer rom-com? I was relatively sure from the concept alone that Falling for Figaro would be a cutesy way to kill a couple of hours. I never dreamed that its adorable love story and lead character Millie’s passionate determination to follow her dreams later in life would be quite this likable.
From her thriving career as a fund manager, Millie (Danielle Macdonald, fresh off an excellent turn as the fortune teller in French Exit) craves something more personally fulfilling. She attends operas with her charming, but stuffy, boyfriend Charlie (Profile’s Shazad Latif)—in love with the performances, Millie envisions herself in the lead role. From here, a dream is born. Presented with a new initiative at work, Millie instead makes a shocking and life-changing decision: she will pursue a career in opera singing.
Charlie is supportive initially about her departure, implying maybe he and Millie will have more time for sex. When she reveals the operatic singing ambitions of it all, Charlie compares it to going off to join the circus and seems very taken aback. Millie, anxious to escape her unfulfilling life, flees to the Scottish Highlands under the tutelage of the legendary Meghan Geoffrey-Bishop (a fantastic Joanna Lumley). Her welcome is warm, though Meghan forces Millie to audition to be one of her students, and looks through an empty planner as if booked solid when she receives a call.
Meghan is a perfectionist who will push Millie to her limits in more ways than one. She believes an opera singer “needs to suffer”, pulling on her tongue and screaming for Millie to open her mouth as loud as possible. She is supposed to be retired, but Meghan has one other student, Max (Fleabag and Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again! actor Hugh Skinner), who has been working with her for over five years. He also doubles as a server at the local pub. Max is a skilled singer, jealous of the attention Millie is receiving. Something changes between them when Millie and Max start practicing together. They put their hands on each other to feel the vibrations of their vocals, and they have an instant connection.
The majority of the film is spent watching Millie adjust to this new world. Her many years at her stuffy job have not prepared her for the attention—or hard work—it will take to become successful. Danielle Macdonald portrays her with a naivety bolstered by headstrong determination. Her debut performance in front of an audience, a show-stopping highlight of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” earns her an amazing write-up, whilst Max has critics calling him “fish and chips, without the vinegar.” Both Max and Millie long for success in the Singer of Renown contest, which is of course the film’s big climax. The music performances are incredible. I was left wondering how many of these actors did their own singing, as I was shocked at the level of vocal talent.
I enjoyed the snarky humor, as well as the obvious fun of a love triangle. This is not a film that paves a new road for rom-coms everywhere, but it does not need to. You don’t exactly have to fix what is not broken, and writer/director Ben Lewin, along with co-writer Allen Palmer, are clearly aware of this fact. They embrace the cliches in a playful way. The chemistry between Danielle Macdonald and Hugh Skinner is off the charts! For fans of romantic comedies, Falling for Figaro hits the perfect notes of feel-good joy.
Falling for Figaro played at the 2021 Bentonville Film Festival, and debuts in theaters on Friday, October 1st from IFC Films.