17 August 2007 | Buddy-51
Woody Allen for Beginners
Written and directed by Maria Maggenti, "Puccini For Beginners" is a tres chic romantic comedy set in a movie-spawned Manhattan where virtually everyone we meet is Caucasian, trendily upscale and sexually conflicted.
The strained setup lands somewhere between a labored screwball sex farce and a recycled Woody Allen angst-fest: Allegra (Elizabeth Reaser) is an opera-loving, afraid-of-commitment lesbian who finds herself inadvertently and simultaneously dating both a man (Justin Kirk) and his longtime girlfriend (winningly played by Gretchen Mol). As Allegra bounces back and forth between her two oblivious paramours, the characters talk out the issues of their relationships as if they were channeling left-over bits from "Annie Hall" or "Manhattan."
"Puccini for Beginners" is one of those small-scale independent features that thinks it's being smarter and more insightful about romantic relationships than it really is. Actually, after all those really sharp Woody Allen exposes on the same subject, very little in this film feels like fresh observation. To be truthful, with the exception of Mol's winsome Grace, most of the characters here are more annoying than they are appealing. Not only are the plotting and much of the writing too cutesy by half, but so is Maggenti's directorial style, which relies heavily on smart-alecky narration, freeze-framing, and dopey fantasy sequences to generate laughs.
"Puccini for Beginners" offers a few genuinely funny moments within its blessedly short 81-minute running time, but throughout we're plagued by the nagging and irreverent suspicion that the film might have been more accurately entitled "Puccini for Idiots."