Puccini for Beginners (2006)

Elizabeth Reaser, Gretchen Mol and Justin Kirk

This is a film I’ve now seen twice. The first time I cringed through a good proportion of it and proclaimed vociferously ‘never again’… I failed, or rather, succumbed and did watch it again, marginally less cringe worthy the second go around I have to admit, but still, really not sure I could make it third time the charm. We shall see. Chances are middling to fair that I will cave in the not too distant future.

The phrase “Have your cake and eat it” springs to mind in relation to this film, or rather the themes of the film and the central character Allegra (who is an Opera fan, can’t you tell by the title and her name?)

a)      The film gives ‘lesbians’ (the quote marks aren’t meant to signify a derogatory attitude, simply how the film seemed to take it) which is how Allegra professes to identify, a bad name, this film perpetuates the ‘player’ concept, and the ‘you can switch whenever you feel like it’. (It’s the way the film goes about it, I don’t like, not, necessarily, the concept.)

b)      It’s a good illustration of how sexuality is fluid and not so binary. It’s not really played this way though, on the plus side, they never try to justify or quantify Allegra’s choices.

Allegra is an Opera fan; she is neurotic and oddly whiney, overly needy and kind of selfish when she’s not being roguishly boyish. I can’t say that I necessarily sympathise a great deal with her character, as I think she pretty much got herself into the mess she ends up in, and I wasn’t overly surprised when her girlfriend left her, either of them.

At the beginning of the movie Allegra’s girlfriend leaves her after a night at the opera with Allegra’s ex- and her girlfriend. Naturally Allegra mopes (and whines a little) and goes to a party to drown her sorrows, seemingly, in cheese, which is as good a choice as any I suppose, you can’t fault cheese. Here she meets a guy… and they ‘click’ (enter my ‘Huh?’ face) and eventually end up dating/shagging, despite Allegra’s strenuous assertions that she is gay. To be fair to Allegra, whilst she doesn’t really say no, it is the guy who is more insistent that they date etc. However, that would make the plot far too simple. Allegra also meets a girl (Gretchen Mol) who is crying because her boyfriend has spilt up with her, and who is ostensibly straight… oh that sexuality sure is fluid. Allegra ends up dating/shagging her at the same time as the guy.

There is a twist to the film, which in retrospect you should have seen coming, yet somehow, miraculously you don’t… well, I didn’t. The guy and the girl Allegra is simultaneously dating are ex-boyfriend and girlfriend; he is the guy the girl was crying about… though why, I cannot fathom, since he is also a bit of a clingy, whiny ass and she is pretty cool in an overly perky way. Allegra thinks she can keep the fact that she is dating two people separate, foolish girl, these things never work out, however whilst waiting on at a party (her friend is catering) it emerges that they are both there too, and bragging to each other about who they are now seeing… can you guess what happens? Yes, they realise that the shifty looking waitress in the doorway is the girlfriend of both of them.

Frustratingly they show this part of the film at the beginning, though it is out of context enough for you to not realise immediately how Allegra’s situation will culminate in this result. The reason for showing the end at the beginning remains unclear, it’s not exactly a give away plot point, and doesn’t seem even remotely necessary. I can only surmise that it was done either to draw people in, or to thoroughly ram home the results of playing the field, and how being a promiscuous lesbian drops you in the shit.

I was frankly surprised that Allegra stayed with the guy as long as she did, as the chemistry she had with Gretchen Mol’s character was far more natural… but maybe that was due to her being a lesbian… as she frequently kept on insisting. The guy did have the appeal of a grapefruit, severely uncharismatic.

Oddly, after Allegra has essentially fucked everything up and her boy and girlfriend have left her, she ends up back with the girl who left her at the beginning, who kept on insisting she wasn’t a lesbian… funny how that theme ‘is she, isn’t she’ keeps on running through the whole film. Not quite sure why the other girl took her back but hey.

In a surprise appearance, Jennifer Dundas (Lily from Hotel New Hampshire) is Allegra’s friend, the one catering the party of revelations, and is fairly funny to boot.

All in all an odd film, that tries too hard to be bohemian, appeal to the intelligentsia and to be cool, yet falls somewhat short of the mark due to all the clichéd plot moments.

A grand total of 6/10 from me for sheer absurdity and wow, you really did that factor.

Technically, an 8/10 as it was well filmed and well acted, a ‘smart’ film made by and for, pseudo intellectuals with a random obsession for opera and fairly unimpressive scripting skills.

See it at your own vexation.


About Nerdsbian

I am a nerd for ALL seasons. Ravenclaw...natch. I am a genderqueer Librarian who unsurprisingly likes reading...a lot. But I also love being outside too...sometimes even reading at the same time. Also animals, any and all of them. Never yet met one that didn't get on with me and vice versa. I do a couple of different voluntary jobs (animal charity related), I am a Brownie Leader and have recently completed my MA.
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