Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Streaming possibility--Christopher Menaul's FIRST NIGHT: opera and love on a lavish estate

Everything seems in place for a fun and frisky entertain-ment, as Adam, a wealthy business magnate with a yen to sing  (Richard E. Grant), hires a professional group of singers, orchestra, director and costumer to stage a production of Mozart's Cosi fan Tutte on his gorgeous estate in Britain. If only. The director and co-writer (with Jeremy Sams) of this gaudy and overcooked concoction, Christopher Menaul (shown below), has packed it so full of plot and subplot, comings and goings, and loves lost and found that the final film, titled FIRST NIGHT, desperately needs better focus and above all some genuinely clever dialog and a more consistent style.

What is does have, and which helps considerably, is a good cast, all of whom do a decent job in roles that ought to have given them more to work with. It also has some fine singing -- dubbed into the mouths of the cast, who lipsynch rather well. (This actually assures that the most enjoyable sections of the film are those in which we see and hear pieces of Mozart's opera staged.) There is also a beautiful Rottweiler named Baskerville who helps push the plot along. That plot mostly has to do with love: between the randy leading man (Julian Ovenden) and leading lady (Mia Maestro); between Adam and the woman he's brought in to be the musical director (played by Sarah Brightman, shown two photos below with Mr. Grant); and the opera's director (Oliver Dimsdale), his singer/girlfriend (the standout performance here, by Emma Williams, below) and his best friend (Nigel Lindsay).

The plotting, an exceedingly connect-the-numbers sort of thing, gives little chance for the oddities of human nature to surface, so we wait for the next snatch of opera to appear -- which, fortunately, is never long in arriving.

This sort of thing -- the let's-put-on-a-show movie -- has worked well before (most recently in the Minnie Driver vehicle Hunky Dory), but it requires some real creativity and originality, rather than the paint-by-numbers variety used here.

By the time the movie reaches its foregone happy ending, my better half had vacated the premises and left me alone to watch the final few minutes (which were mostly devoted to very lengthy credits). You can do the same, as the movie is now available via Netflix streaming.

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