Puccini for Beginners (2006) Poster

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Likable Romantic Triangle Comedy Hamstrung by a Lackluster Lead and Plodding Pacing
Ed Uyeshima24 July 2007
Directed and written by Maria Maggenti ("The Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls in Love"), this disheveled 2007 romantic triangle comedy has several likable elements, but it never seems to coalesce into something more resonant. The chief problem is that the protagonist, a neurotic, opera-loving lesbian writer appropriately named Allegra, is so perpetually self-absorbed that her dilemma never elicits much sympathy. Elizabeth Reaser is an appealing character actress but frankly not charismatic enough to get away with the commitment-phobic shenanigans that Maggenti throws her way in the acerbic script. The gap causes an odd imbalance with her more intriguing co-stars Justin Kirk and Gretchen Mol. Kirk, who soared as Prior Walter in Mike Nichols' epic 2003 adaptation of Tony Kushner's "Angels in America", harnesses his quirky persona effectively to play Philip, a bored philosophy professor who becomes attracted to Allegra.

In turn, Allegra finds herself drawn to Philip but is still reeling from a break-up with her conflicted girlfriend of nine months. Meanwhile, Mol (refreshingly frank as "The Notorious Bettie Page") seems to be channeling a bit of Meg Ryan's flaky self-righteousness in playing Grace, a pert glass-blower who just broke up with Philip. Grace meets Allegra, and the standard complications ensue. Even with the lesbian angle, which Maggenti handles with aplomb, the indie movie feels more like a throwback to a 1930's screwball farce, especially seen in a hectic party scene where all three principals converge in a most haphazard way. Emotional isolation is a worthy theme to explore, but Maggenti can't make the film snap with the strength of her witty observations. One would have also expected a reference to Puccini, in particular, his tragic opera "Turandot", to be reflected more fully than it does here through the plodding plot structure. The 2007 DVD has an insightful commentary track from Maggenti and editor Susan Graef, as well as a couple of deleted scenes.
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Woody Allen for Beginners
Brent Trafton17 July 2007
I really wanted to like "Puccini for Beginners" but it is a heavily flawed film.

1. It is not funny enough. I don't think I laughed out loud once and I only chuckled a few time.

2. The main character is not sympathetic enough. She is cheating on both her boyfriend and her girlfriend.

3. It steals too much from the Woody Allen films "Annie Hall" and "Manhattan" but is not nearly as clever as it wants to be.

4. There is hardly any opera music or reference to opera. With a title that contains the name "Puccini," I was expecting opera to play a bigger part.

Despite that, there are some mildly funny parts and the cast is attractive, especially Gretchen Moll. I wish she had been in the film more.

"Puccini for Beginners" is not a really bad film but it is disappointing because it could have been much better. If you are looking for a good lesbian themed comedy, watch "Gray Matters." It was much funnier.
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See This Movie...
Davy Ray2 February 2007
Better than Woody Allen's last five movies combined, PUCCINI FOR BEGINNERS is that snappiest, funniest, romantic comedy in recent memory. The cast is spectacular and the direction is flawless. I can't say enough good things about this movie. I first heard about it at Sundance; everyone I know who attended kept telling how I needed to see it. I am not one to buy the hype so I just let the movie fade from memory. Having just seen it, I see that the hype wasn't unjustified; in fact, I'd say it wasn't strong enough. Put simply: this movie is cute. C. U. T. E. Gretchen is adorable, as always. Elizabeth Reaser is a dream come true; she delivers her dialogue with the skill and precision of a government trained sniper. Justin is so affable, you can hardly stand it. Overall, I just have to say that missing this movie highly, highly inadvisable.
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fabulous, fabulous, fabulous
robertamaggenti16 June 2006
This is one of the most delightful romantic comedies I've seen in a long time and one which should get wide distribution and a crossover audience in major cities as well as out-of-the-way communities. The San Francisco Lesbian & Gay Film Festival audience last night were stamping their feet and whistling along with the bravos as Maggenti attended the premiere...While it has yet to find a distributor, I'm confident, if last night was any indication, that one will be ringing her phone any minute...funny, witty, smart, a New York scene with wonderful actors, Justin Kirk, the adorable Gretchen Mol and beautiful Elizabeth Reasor...wait till you see it...you'll fall in love with all the characters...congrats, Maria, another success (The Incredibly True Story of Two Girls in Love; The Love Letter, Without a Trace (TV)...)
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central character flaw
alanalantt23 October 2006
Nice NYC comic romp with a fatal flaw: central character just isn't likable. She's cheating, she's lying, she's whining, she only talks about herself -- so why is everyone falling all over her, aside from sex...

Ms. Mol was a true bright spot in this film. Central character needed some of her charm and warmth -- both in writing and delivery.

This was Closing Night film of a very successful 11th Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival with director and star Justin Kirk in attendance. It received a very warm reception.

Filmed in 18 days 9/05 and doesn't look nearly as low budget as it was.
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Delightful, Effervescent
freddiebean7 October 2006
I saw this film at Sundance and can't wait for it to get distribution so that I can see it again and again! This is the kind of film that doesn't really get made anymore: witty, fun, intelligent, truly entertaining, reminiscent of classic Hollywood screwball comedy. Wonderful use of New York City as a set, sparkling script, winning performances. Even the smaller roles are wonderfully cast and written. Every detail of the film is beautifully executed. This is how film-making should be, and as an audience member, how experiencing a film should be. The late-night audience at Sundance LOVED this film, gave a standing ovation for the director. I am hoping nationwide audiences will soon have the same opportunity to enjoy this delightful film.
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Woody Allen for Beginners
Roland E. Zwick17 August 2007
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."
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Huh? Only very mild spoiler included.
plex17 December 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Don't get the point of this film or if it even makes any point. It just sort of plods around without any foundation or pace. None of the characters are likable, they're all dishonest with themselves and each other, and selfish. You get the idea they will end up alone and you don't care. Poorly acted with very limited emotional reactions covered by a veneer of self- importance, self-cool, self- righteousness, and displaced awe we are supposed to feel because they are bisexual(maybe) AND New Yorkers, AND educated. The film is all too self aware of itself and the writer/director self-gratifies with small genitalia. I watched this film because I have seen most of the players in other things I liked, ironically they were better scripted and directed in TV shows. The film's climax is that it has no climax, you see it coming a mile away and has all the energy and appeal of a televised senior golf tournament. Its billed as a comedy and a romance but neither of those genres were evident to me. How and why sushi chefs would know or care about the intimate details of customers they have no apparent connection with is a complete mystery to me. How & why the character are always bumping into each other, or espying the other in NYC was lamely explained using some old Freud comment about peripheral awareness. Watch only if you like selected players and you are amused by the cliché'd script penned by a lesbian who completely negates men and understands even less about the man-woman dynamic.
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Uninspired musings on love and relationships
napierslogs25 September 2010
"Puccini for Beginners" is yet another independent relationship comedy. I remember a long line of them coming out probably around the same time this one did. We have love triangles and writers waxing on neurotically about love and relationships.

The lead is a writer, a lesbian who is unable to admit her true feelings, and she goes from a break up to a man. He's a philosophy professor who loves everything about her that it doesn't matter that she's a lesbian. In addition to their differences in sexual orientation, there are other love entanglements that get in their way - "with all the twists and turns of a classic Puccini" as the DVD case says. I would agree with that if the twists and turns in Puccini operas are obvious and uninspired with contrived culminations.

I enjoyed the casting, Elizabeth Reaser has a fresh face and isn't your typical romantic comedy lead. I fell in love with Justin Kirk as Andy Botwin in "Weeds" and I fell in love with him again here. The actresses who play her friends actually look like regular friends. But the cast wasn't able to save the characters. We have a lesbian with the prosaic name of Allegra, a writer whose neurotic, and a philosophy professor who pontificated on her vocabulary and the virtues of love and relationships. And none of them had interesting character traits.

The characters, the love triangles and the imperious dialogue were all flat. And the references to Puccini? Allegra likes going to the opera. So does Philip. I think that sums up all the imaginative aspects of "Puccini for Beginners".
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NOT a lesbian movie
meganweinand1 August 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I say this is not a true lesbian movie-why? Because I as a lesbian I don't think having a lesbian-male relationship is good enough! In addition, the relationship is non-monogamous! If you enjoy watching a movie about a woman who cheats on her lovers (both male and female) while simultaneously claiming to be a lesbian, this is for you! (NOTE the SARCASM). Sure, the movie is funny, but its not really when you realize it's just playing with people's lives. :( On top of that they lie to each other and the comedy does not balance that out! Overall cheeky but not a good movie and not worth it. The chemistry is okay but it's not great. Not recommended for lesbians either-its mainly female-male sex and relationships.
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"Out Of Africa" without the lions
DQGladstone7 August 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I liked this film from the outset because of the screwball/Woody Allenish style of it but it really kicked in for me with the following paraphrased quote:

Allegra: Phillip Roth is a misogynist...I'll buy the first round if you don't tell anyone about Martha Stewart.

Philip: I'll buy the second round if you can think of something more original to say about Phillip Roth.

The word "misogynist" is overused and misused by some women and it was nice to hear it dealt with so easily.

This film has a potential to be misandrist/women-empowering but it never really goes there which is GREAT. Quoting Allegra: "Just because I love women doesn't mean I hate men."

"Puccini" points out a lot of irritating female behavior by having Allegra play the man-stereotype (who happens to be a woman), thereby vindicating men of some of their "flaws". Reaser WAS "like a man" but an interesting, good, CHARMing man with some of his more understandable flaws, like fear of commitment and romantic curiosity.

I've never seen Elizabeth Reaser before but I loved her choices and acting style in this film. She was cool, understated and charming and she made nice underwear choices. She was the constantly-criticized man with women and the irritatingly instructive but inconsistent woman with a man. Following are two quotes from her character to Philip:

"When a woman runs out of a restaurant that's your cue to run after her."

"Phillip, when a woman says she has to leave a restaurant you have to let her leave."

I liked the sushi commentators and the lonely lesbians drinking their coffee in unison. When Allegra vomits on Philip's shoes, the sound-effect is masterful. Gretchen Mol is charming and I liked the absurdity of the battling men in the background while she is mouthing the usual, boring, general complaints about men. I appreciate that Allegra gently disagrees with her. At the closing party, while Allegra is talking to Philip and looking for her coat, a mating couple wanders in. Samantha's fiancée was entertainingly stupid. Nell, the ex-girlfriend, was magnifico. "Puccini" had a lot of nice comic touches.

Allegra's character arc follows Redford's in "Out Of Africa", without the lions, but Reaser has the humor that Redford needed. She is unwilling to commit for reasons that are less idealistic and more vague but, in the end, comes around to the idea that commitment has it's charms when it's the right person. She IS a commitment-phobe but, like Redford's character, for most of the right reasons. She's not stupid enough to LOOK for commitment but she's not inhuman enough to live without romance and passion.

Maria Maggenti has created something fresh, classic and modern here. (She seems to know a few things about women). "Puccini For Beginners" does away with a lot of feminist cliché and propaganda which is refreshing as hell.
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cute and quirky
SnoopyStyle17 February 2017
Allegra (Elizabeth Reaser) gets caught dating both Grace (Gretchen Mol) and Philip (Justin Kirk). The movie flashes back to the time when she's dating Samantha (Julianne Nicholson). She's a Puccini opera loving New York writer. Her ex Nell (Tina Benko) and Vivian (Kate Simses) are advancing in their relationship. Samantha hates opera, questions her lesbianism, and breaks up with Allegra to go back to her former boyfriend Jeff. As Allegra resigns herself to be alone, she meets first Philip and then Grace. She sleeps with Philip. Then she sleeps with Grace without knowing that they're actually in a stale long-term relationship together.

It's a quirky little rom-com. I love all the actors although Reaser may not be up to being a manic comedic lead. She's not quite big enough to fill the character's shoes. There are some light humorous moments that are kinda funny. The laughs are never big enough to rise up to hilarious. There is a little bit of an interesting take on lesbian relationship struggles. The irreverent tone adds up to a cute but strictly small little indie.
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Pretentious twattle
CoenHead23 March 2009
Yes, we get it. Lesbianism is in. It's way cool and hip.

Thing is, it doesn't make for good movies. And when an entire film is centered upon a self-absorbed lesbian's facile and pointless introspection on her lesbianism, it takes the reasonably intelligent viewer about fifteen seconds to know that spending even another fifteen seconds upon the movie is fifteen seconds wasted. The characters are the typical Manhattanite stereotypes, are acted amateurishly, and aren't the least bit interesting.

Rubbish - pretentious and insulting rubbish. Steer way clear unless you like to watch trash films just for the sake of watching trash films.
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Excellent Movie
jimmatlock20043 May 2009
I was a little leery at first when I read the synopsis, but this is one movie I thoroughly enjoyed. The characters were interconnected, well chosen, and delivered good performances. However, I think the magic in this movie is the script and direction. As a gay person who loves gay themed movies, this one really stood out with a bizarre quad love story. People who found something in common with one person, whether they were alike or different. One of the things I liked most about the story had nothing to do with the main characters but the sushi chefs who added comedy at the right moment. I recognized the main male character from TRICK and I'm glad to see him in something else, his character free flowing style and intellect was the perfect counterpart for the main lesbian character to be mesmerized by. But we all too soon learn, she's easily mesmerized. Anyway, I say let's add this to our top 20 list gay movies that hits the A list as far as I'm concerned. Watch it, enjoy it.
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Film-making for Beginners – plus Advanced Left-wing Propaganda 501.
Fedor Petrovic (fedor8)6 January 2015
"She voted Republican, you should have known." Only in American movies does voting Right automatically equate to being a Nazi supporter or being a serial-killer. (Good luck to you if you've already been brainwashed by Hollywood flicks into adopting this mind-set.) There are many other examples of liberal indoctrination; it is persistent and all-present in PFB.

Nearly every character behaves like a pre-election politician trying to rake in votes among his liberal electorate, by injecting as many asinine politically-correct statements into the vapid dialogue as they can; so much so in fact that half-way through this painfully unfunny turkey I was musing on whether the film's incompetent writer/director had the primary goal of entertaining people i.e. making them laugh (remember: a comedy, so that's her job), or whether this terribly lame script was merely an excuse for her to voice her painfully predictable and utterly mindless left-wing views. Either way, she is a buffoon with zero talent. After all, isn't this the same Maria who molested us with "The Incredibly Lame Adventure of Two Girls in Love"?

PFB is bizarre pile of rom-com (all rom and no com) horse-manure about an unbearably unattractive/unappealing lesbian who is at the center of a love square, meaning that she has affairs with three people, almost all at once. In the absurd "reality" of this stupid movie, this ugly woman is desired and lusted over by every man and woman she meets – while Mol Gretchen (the ACTUAL beauty here) is the one getting cheated on and dumped by both men and women. Yes, I'd laugh at this cretinous role-reversal – if only it were intentional. It isn't.

Elizabeth Reaser is such a mediocre and uncharismatic actress and – as I will mention at least ten times more – bearing such a horrendous face, that my nepotism radars immediately switched on. I had a quick look at her bio – and sure enough: her stepfather was nothing less than owner of the Detroit Pistons, a post that her mother took over later on. That explains quite a bit, doesn't it? Further proof that in Hollywood you can only make it if you have relatives in the industry, if you belong to a certain ethnic group, or if you have an upper-class background. (And if you fall into all three categories, a movie-career becomes virtually a certainty – should you want one.) This is quite ironic – and highly hypocritical – considering this movie's pro-Socialist pro-working-class message of equality, huh?

Let me get this straight: the movie promotes anti-capitalism while seeking to make as much profit in a very competitive movie market? Furthermore: the movie portrays Republicans as greedy elitists – while the movie's writer/director hires some rich preppie daughter from a powerful and wealthy American family to play a left-wing lesbian? Perhaps one needs to be daft in the extreme in order to "understand" liberal ideology and the self-contradicting means by which they attempt to impose their views on the rest of us who lack this extreme daftness.

But hip social issues aren't Maria's only pointless obsession. The script is also burdened, saddled, and ultimately crushed by Maria's laughable desire to be taken seriously as an intellectual; that much is obvious. Instead of focusing on making the movie FUNNY (something she's clearly incapable of anyway), this fool tries to impress us with pseudo-intellectual piffle, while making boring left-wing insinuations every 5 minutes – as if Manbearpig itself had hired her for the job.

The script fails in every department, however. The characters aren't believable; they are politically-correct cardboard cut-outs, walking indie-film clichés. They aren't even remotely funny; not even slightly amusing, and very rarely interesting. The dialog sounds fake and forced, not much better than what one gets in a typical episode of "Friends".

Credibility is stretched to breaking point as the entire script relies heavily on absurd coincidences – while Maria desperately tries to justify these too-numerous-to-mention chance meetings with some pretentious, unconvincing gobbledygook about why Freud thought there was "no such thing as coincidence". Besides, who gives a rat's bum what Freud thought about anything not related to psychoanalysis? It's like quoting what Plato thought was the best way to cook spaghetti. Or what Agassi thinks about French poetry.

And nice try, attempting to portray New York's left-wing lesbian "elite" as smart and well-educated. New York City is a place of high imbecility, not at all anymore the city in which "if you can make it here you can make it anywhere". Make what? Bad movies?
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Does not contain something for everyone
gfvaughn8 July 2008
To me this is a decently made digitally-recorded film. It looks better than many low budget features. Photography and sound is generally good except for interior lighting that in places seems a little too flat for my taste. Yes, it follows in the "screwball comedy" tradition to some extent. Occasionally, early directorial efforts attempt to bring in more themes than they can successfully integrate fully. The operatic theme and title wanders off and gets lost somewhere about halfway through. Two sushi chef characters are funny and provide more zest and unity end-to-end than the operatic theme. Various other minor characters who speak just a few words all enhance the story as well and keep it moving. Dialog relies on psycho-babble for exposition. This does not necessarily detract if the audience can understand it. But the thought that this might be lifted from Woody Allen never occurred to me while watching the film first without, then with, the commentary. Any resemblance this film may bear to certain W.A. hallmarks as others have suggested is coincidental. This isn't a mere goofy / silly wisecracking comedy, either. It has gender identity issues that inevitably darken the mood for the major part of its potential audience. This core aspect of the narrative reduces the film to a subculture where it needs to succeed within a limited cult following to become commercially successful. Several comments in the narrative reemphasize the writer-director's gender orientation and politics. Given key career and relationship choices that most of the lead female characters make during their arc, it's questionable whether this film is going to engage a lot of general public sympathy. Nevertheless, plentiful relationship dynamics such as basic ability to communicate apply to all romantic relationships. The outcome here is more positive and carries with it greater depth that gives this film its charm.
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