Thursday, August 30, 2007

Movie Log: Puccini for Beginners

The Wife and I saw Puccini for Beginners last night, because it was short, available quickly from Netflix, and a romantic comedy. It's about lesbians in New York, and nothing makes boring suburbanites feel more cosmopolitan than watching movies about interesting quirky urban people (and twice yelling upstairs at the kids to go to bed along the way).

It's a quite short movie (an hour twenty-two, including end credits), and a bit fluffy, like the unacknowledged child of Friends and Kissing Jessica Stein. I can't see anyone getting terribly worked up about it, either for or against, but it's a pleasant film that looks like it cost more than it actually did.

Our main character is Allegra (Elizabeth Reaser), who breaks up with her girlfriend Samantha (Julianne Nicolson) early in the film. Well, it's Sam that does the breaking up, actually, because Allegra has a Problem Committing. (Several other characters, including Allegra's best childhood friend Molly and best ex-girlfriend friend Nina, also comment baldly about this element of Allegra's psychological makeup, in case we missed it.)

Allegra then separately falls into affairs with Philip (Justin Kirk) and Grace (Gretchen Mol), without realizing at first that Philip and Grace were previously a couple. (And there are plenty of things to nitpick about this movie, but the way that Allegra ends up involved with Philip -- a man, need I add? -- seemed quite reasonable to me.)

Allegra eventually learns what she's done, and then it all unravels -- well, we know it all unravels, since the unraveling takes place in the movie's first scene, before it flashes back to the rest of the plot. But, as this is a romantic comedy, all comes out all right in the end.

The main problem with Puccini for Beginners is that Allegra is a bit whiny and self-obsessed; one might wonder what Philip and Grace saw in her. (On the other hand, she's cute and apparently a lot of fun to be with, so it's not implausible while you're watching the movie.) Other than that, this is a fine movie -- the dialogue isn't quite as witty and pointed as it could be, but it's pretty good; and Justin Kirk has an odd manner as Phillip through most of the movie, but he is supposed to be a philosophy professor, so we expect him to be not quite right. As I said, there are things you can nitpick about it, but it's a small-scale, low-budget comedy about realistic urban people, and it does that pretty well. It could have used a little more room to breathe, and perhaps a bit more depth to the secondary characters, but it does what it sets out to do perfectly well.

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