PUCCINI FOR BEGINNERS
© 2007 by C.E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.
L to R: Elizabeth Reaser as Allegra and Gretchen Mol as
Grace in
PUCCINI FOR BEGINNERS

© 2007 Strand Releasing

comedy THE INCREDIBLY TRUE
ADVENTURES OF 2 GIRLS IN LOVE, a
semi-autobiographical romantic comedy. It has
taken her almost 15 years, though, to fashion
a follow-up movie. In the interim, Maggenti
has written screenplays and worked in
television. Now she's back on the big screen
with an attempt to reinvigorate the moribund
genre of the screwball comedy with
PUCCINI
FOR BEGINNERS
. The on screen result is a
mishmash that is sometimes amusing,
sometimes awkward and not wholly believable.
Maggenti is a good screenwriter, but a weak
director. Like her first effort, this sophomore
feature owes whatever its success to the work
of the actors who elevate its somewhat trite
plot devices and middling dialogue.

The film is structured in three acts with a
prologue and an epilogue; this was done (I'm
guessing) because the lead character, Allegra
(Elizabeth Reaser), is an opera buff. The
prologue opens with Allegra being confronted
by Philip (Justin Kirk) and Grace (Gretchen
Mol), both of whom proclaim: "She's my
girlfriend." Then the film begins in earnest and
takes us on the journey to that particular
moment.

Allegra is a writer in a relationship with
Samantha (Julianne Nicholson) but the pair are
experiencing commitment issues. Samantha
announces she's returning to her boyfriend
because he wants to get married. Allegra goes
to a party where she meets Philip, a grad
student in philosophy and she finds herself
attracted to him. They begin an affair which
results in the end of Philip's relationship. One
afternoon, Allegra goes to the movies and
meets Grace to whom she is immediately
attracted. What the audience knows but
Allegra doesn't is that Philip and Grace used to
be a couple. Soon, Allegra is juggling
relationships with both with the inevitably
predictable results. It all comes to a head at
an engagement party for Samantha which both
Philip and Grace attend and at which Allegra is
working as a cater waiter.

Maggenti's screenplay owes a large debt to
early Woody Allen, with extras who offer
advice, its comic set ups, and its outdated
take on sexual stereotypes. Granted, there are
some amusing moments, but I can see
someone making a drinking game of the DVD --
every time Allegra says "I'm a lesbian" take a
swig. Oops! You'll be in an alcohol-induced
coma fairly quickly.

The characters in Maggenti's screenplay aren't
really fully rounded and in lesser hands the
roles would be twee or worse boring. That she
has cast several wonderful actors is the film's
saving grace. Elizabeth Reaser, who has an
offbeat charm and sensuality, manages to
make Allegra believable as she explores her
bisexuality. Some of the voice-over narration
and the comic bits don't work, though, no
matter how hard the actress tries. She does
enjoy a pleasant chemistry with both Justin
Kirk and Gretchen Mol, neither of whom are
given real characters to play; rather they are
plot devices and sketches of figures that are
not fully developed. Even Julianne Nicholson
faces this issue as Samantha. The only two
actors who come across as real "characters" are
Jennifer Dundas as Allegra's heterosexual
female friend, and Tina Benko who nearly
steals the movie as Allegra's tart,
take-no-prisoners ex-lover.

PUCCINI FOR BEGINNERS wants to be a
modern screwball comedy but unfortunately
that genre really has died. I will say, though,
that this film is one of the best produced under
the
InDigEnt banner, although that may be
damning with faint praise.
MPAA Rating:          None
Running time:          82 mins.