Puccini for Beginners

Allegra is confused.  She's a lesbian who just got out of a relationship, and now finds herself dating a woman...and a man.  To make things even more confusing for everybody, she soon learns that the woman, Grace, and the man, Philip, just broke up with each other.  Puccini for Beginners is one of those movies that tries to take the old formula made famous by Woody Allen - neurotic, fast talking New Yorkers, and inject something new into the relationship.

Writer/director Maria Maggenti does keep things light, with the atmosphere often approaching that of screwball comedy.  The characters do seem far more intelligent than the average movie denizen, but probably because they supplement their vocabulary with unusually large words.  And hey, Maggenti even incorporates this into the plot!  Neato!  But Puccini for Beginners is still a formula movie, albeit taking a new twist on the formula, and it feels familiar even with Maggenti goes in different directions.

Allegra (Elizabeth Reaser, Sweet Land, The Family Stone) vows to have no more relationships after her girlfriend Samantha (Julianne Nicholson, Flannel Pajamas, Kinsey) breaks up with her.  Samantha is frustrated by the fact that Allegra is unwilling to say "I love you."  Allegra, in a very Allen-esque moment, reasons that it takes a while to realize love, even though the two dated for nine months.  She meets Philip (Justin Kirk, Flannel Pajamas, Ask the Dust), who seems to truly enjoy her company.  He's not looking for a fling with a lesbian, he wants something fresh, instead of his current, stale relationship.  The two begin seeing each other, and shortly thereafter, Allegra meets Grace (Gretchen Mol, The Notorious Bettie Page, The Shape of Things).  Grace actively pursues Allegra, who soon relents and begins seeing her. 

A quick prologue shows what happens at the moment of truth, but Maggenti doesn't return to this point until late in the film.  But for most of the film, Allegra, who grows close to both, begins to realize that she will have to make a choice sooner or later. Puccini for Beginners barely gets by, and this is mostly from the likeability of its three leads.  Reaser (wonderful in Sweet Land) nicely plays a confused neurotic.  All of the leads are looking for something more substantial in their life, but don't quite know what.  This is one of those cute, superficial movies that doesn't try to do anything deep, and succeeds along those lines.

Mongoose Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 22 minutes, Not Rated but contains language and some sensuality, most likely an R, possibly a PG-13.

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