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With: Elizabeth Reaser, Julianne Nicholson, Justin Kirk, Gretchen Mol, Tina Benko, Jennifer Dundas, Kate Simses, Brian Letscher, Will Bozarth, Ken Barnett
Written by: Maria Maggenti
Directed by: Maria Maggenti
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 82
Date: 09/02/2006

Puccini for Beginners (2007)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Plight at the Opera

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This digital video feature utilizes a rather elastic human sexuality to create an engaging romantic quadrangle. The appropriately named Allegra (Elizabeth Reaser) is a writer, a lesbian and an opera nut. Her latest girlfriend, Samantha (Julianne Nicholson) gets fed up with Allegra's emotional distance and her highbrow tastes and flees for the company of an alpha male. On the rebound, Allegra falls into bed with an assistant professor, Philip (Justin Kirk), who shares her interests. Smitten, Philip dumps his longtime girlfriend, Grace (Gretchen Mol), who coincidentally falls into bed with Allegra. The admittedly superficial movie unwisely begins with a flash-forward to the big "confrontation" scene before getting started, but it soon finds a good pace. The idea of bisexuality is a hot-button issue in some quarters, but Reaser finds an appealing center for her character and an emotional truth that makes her bed-hopping plausible. It helps that writer/director Maria Maggenti (The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love) pays spiritual tribute to Woody Allen with her heart-stoppingly lovely New York locations and the smart, creative characters (even the traditional "best friends" are interesting). But Maggenti also embraces movie artificiality by tossing little comically surreal moments (such as two gossipy sushi chefs) in-between the action. Shockingly, this is Maggenti's first film in 11 years. It was produced by Gary Winick's impressive InDigEnt, which also gave us Pieces of April, November and Land of Plenty.

Note: just in case you're like me and know next to nothing about opera, Puccini is the creator of La Bohème (1896), Tosca (1900), Madama Butterfly (1904) and Turandot (1926), the latter of which was left unfinished at his death and is briefly heard in the movie.

DVD Details: Strand sent me a check disc of the new DVD, which didn't have any of the special features on it, but reportedly the new DVD will have a director's commentary track, deleted scenes and a trailer.

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