FALLING FOR FIGARO (2021)

September 30, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. There aren’t many Opera singer-Romantic Comedies, so that alone made this one worth checking out. Writer-director Ben Lewin (THE SESSIONS, 2012) co-wrote the script with Allen Palmer (his first feature film) and cast the film perfectly, while also gifting us an inordinate amount of beautiful singing voices, as well as a uniquely picturesque setting in the Scottish Highlands.

Danielle Macdonald (PATTI CAKE$, 2017) stars as Millie, an American who has been living in London, and establishing herself as a highly successful fund manager. After an evening at the opera with her boyfriend (and co-worker) Charlie (Shazad Latif, “Penny Dreadful”), Millie makes a life-altering decision. Rather than accept a big promotion at work, she’s going to sacrifice her career and follow her dream of becoming an opera singer. Of course, as with most rom-coms, none of this really makes much sense. Rather than compare this to reality, it’s best to enjoy the fun parts (and there are plenty) and disregard the rest.

Those fun parts begin once Millie leaves London and lands in the Scottish Highlands. Her first comical interaction is with the proprietor of The Filthy Pig played by Gary Lewis (GANGS OF NEW YORK, 2002). This only pub in the village also serves as its only restaurant and motel. More zaniness ensues as Millie auditions for Megan Geoffrey-Bishop (a terrific Joanna Lumley, “Absolutely Fabulous”), a “retired” singing teacher who once made her own mark on the stage. Her only current pupil is Max (Hugh Skinner, LES MISERABLES, 2002), a local who has been training for years. Max and Millie have the same goal – qualify for the ‘Singer of Renowned’ competition. So we immediately know where this is headed … and sure enough, it does.

While much of the story focuses on the ‘will they or won’t they’ connection between Millie and Max, it’s Ms. Lumley who steals every scene she’s in. Her theory that opera singers must suffer is part of her curriculum for both of her students. At first we aren’t sure whether she’s just taking Millie’s money because she needs it, but that answer comes soon enough. The actual competition is packed with amazing singing voices, and the three-way love story follows many of the rom-com clichés – though we don’t seem to care because Millie and Max are so torn between their dream and each other, and Ms. Lumley just keeps cracking wise.

Of course we know that opera singers train most of their lives for competitions and stage roles, so it’s absurd to think that a fund manager can take a year off work and reach this level. But again, this isn’t about reality. No, this is about Millie singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” like you’ve never heard it before. It’s about “fish and chips without the vinegar”. It’s about not wanting to rent a room because the floor would need to be mopped. It’s about opening your heart and chasing a passion – following a dream. And we can all use a little of that right now.

In select theaters and on VOD beginning October 1, 2021

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PROFILE (2021)

May 13, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. French journalist Anna Erelle documented her month-long correspondence with an ISIS terrorist in her 2015 book, “In the Skin of a Jihadist.” Her experience resulted in a fatwa being issued for her … basically an Islamic death sentence on her head. Based on (more like influenced by) Ms. Erelle’s story, writer-director Timur Bekmambetov (ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER, 2012) and co-writers Brittany Poulton and Olga Kharina bring us a movie version via computer screen storytelling.

Valene Kane (“The Fall”) stars as Amy Whittaker, a British freelance journalist with a bright idea for an important story. With so many western girls being recruited by ISIS and sold as sex slaves, Amy decides to track down a recruiter and gain intel on how the process works. She does this by creating new Facebook and Skype accounts under the fictitious name of Melody Nelson, an “almost” 20 year old new convert to Islam who just doesn’t fit in to her current world. With the beep of a new post, Melody is contacted by Bilel, a terrorist and ISIS recruiter, whose profile expertly blends cat videos with bombings and beheadings.

Bilel (Shazad Latif, “Star Trek: Discovery”) is handsome and charming. He talks the talk and walks the walk as both a terrorist and man who can seduce vulnerable young women via FaceTime. There is a lot happening on Amy’s/Melody’s screen at any given time. The pop ups come fast and frequently from her hard-nosed news editor Vick (Christine Adams, “Black Lightning”), curious best friend Kathy (Emma Cater), confused boyfriend Matt (Morgan Watkins), and IT specialist Lou (Amir Rahimzadeh), himself the son of a Muslim. As if all that isn’t enough, YouTube videos come and go, and Melody is constantly googling the latest topic of conversation so she doesn’t give away her ruse.

Artistic license is taken with her in-the-moment research and blunders. Although Ms. Kane is strong in the role, Amy never comes across as a professional journalist on a job. She does, however, expertly play to the stresses – rent due, concerned boyfriend, social commitments, dual personas, work deadlines, and the social media chaos that comes with flirting with terrorists or “making friends with jihadists”. It’s just impossible to imagine a job like this wouldn’t find all parties better prepared and protected.

Still, the reality of young women being seduced and recruited by terrorists is quite real, and this should generate fear in every parent. I kept thinking “that wouldn’t happen”, all the while my stomach churned with the tension. It’s the reality of the threat that creates the fear, but director Bekmambetov effectively uses the online interactions to create a current and urgent scenario.

In theaters on May 14, 2021

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