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Puccini For Beginners
cast: Elizabeth Reaser, Justin Kirk, Gretchen Mol, Julianne Nicholson, and Tina Benko

writer and director: Maria Maggenti

82 minutes (15) 2006
widescreen ratio 16:9
TLA DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 5/10
reviewed by James A. Stewart
Love triangles that involve a guy and two girls can be complicated - love triangles like this where it is guy meets girl, and then girl meets girl, are just that little bit more complicated. Thus, the plotline for the quirky rom-com Puccini For Beginners is revealed.

New York writer, Allegra (Elizabeth Reaser) is afraid of commitment and it is enough to drive her girlfriend back into the arms of her once jilted boyfriend. Phillip (Justin Kirk) is equally afraid of commitment. His laconic approach to discussing marriage drives his girlfriend, Grace (Gretchen Mol), into the arms of Allegra. But what do you know? Allegra somehow starts dating Phillip too, and she has no idea of the connection between Phillip and Grace. Neither are two lovers are aware that a third person is involved. You get the idea.

After all that, a film of great potential blossoms, that at times can be funny in that internal chuckle way. The problem is that just never scales the hits of a laugh out loud moment. This wouldn't be so much of an issue if it were not for the fact that relationships between the trio continually feel contrived, and there is a lack of sparks between them. In addition, nothing exceptional happens and, for a film with this kind of subject matter to work the viewer needs to be fed funny one-liners and humorous moments, or feel so much empathy for the characters that they feel the pain of Allegra as the inevitable revelation occurs later in the film.

Puccini For Beginners ends up landing somewhere in between. I wanted it to be funny and I wanted to feel sorry for Allegra. However, the lack of a charismatic lead and a more imaginative script leave the film wanting. Maria Maggenti (The Incredibly True Adventure Of Two Girls In Love) writes and directs the film and generally is adept at making light of a potentially subject matter such as this. Cinematically, the direction of the film is pretty good, and in some ways saves the overall package from further criticism. Overall? Average at best and could have been so much better.
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