Generalizations about monogamy and varying sexual orientations are bandied about—and then meekly pooh-pooh’d—in Puccini for Beginners, a film that yearns to be a bisexual screwball comedy but turns out to be only a simplistic sitcom stretched to feature length. Lesbian author Allegra (Elizabeth Reaser) is dumped by girlfriend Samantha (Julianne Nicholson) because she’s commitment-phobic and incapable of saying “I love you.” Luckily for Allegra’s libido, though, she quickly hooks up with not only a male philosophy professor named Philip (Justin Kirk)—which naturally sparks lots of “Why am I dating a dude when I’m a lesbian?” soul-searching and dirty looks from her icy gay ex (Tina Benko)—but also Philip’s girlfriend Grace (Gretchen Mol), an investment banker who dreams of being a glass-blower. Neither of Allegra’s new lovers knows that she’s sleeping with the other, though the real mystery isn’t how this ticking time-bomb of a situation will ultimately resolve itself—since the moment of uncomfortable truth is shown at story’s outset—but why either Philip or Grace is attracted to Allegra, a shrill, smug, deceitful snob whose favorite pastime is talking about her own predicament to others (and herself via narration). Allegra and her friends like to drop references to Kant, Freud, and Philip Roth, as well as use terms like “pulchritude” and “sublimate” in casual conversation, both proclivities that cause director Maria Maggenti’s characters to emit erudite pretentiousness. Mirroring Allegra’s love of opera, Puccini for Beginners is split into three acts (with prologue and epilogue), a narrow, uniform arrangement that’s in keeping with the tale’s structured balance of humor and pathos. Admittedly, Maggenti’s use of local NYC landmarks like Murray’s and Cinema Village brings an easygoing intimacy to the often-strained proceedings. Yet between its pitiful efforts at comedy (such as a recurring bit involving a Greek chorus of Japanese sushi chefs) and Reaser’s inability to make Allegra’s wanton selfishness cute, Puccini for Beginners is largely forced to rely on its insights about love—a problem considering that the film plays like Sex and the City, only dopier.
- Strand Releasing
- 81 min
- Maria Maggenti
- Maria Maggenti
- Elizabeth Reaser, Justin Kirk, Gretchen Mol, Jennifer Dundas, Julianne Nicholson, Tina Benko, Brian Letscher
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