Monday, January 7, 2008

PUCCINI FOR THE L WORD DEBUTANTES

Using stereotypes to exploit stereotypes, writer and director Maria Maggenti earns points about male vs. female roles and sensual expectations, but succeeds in extending comic episodes of cable TV's The L Word as her PUCCINI FOR BEGINNERS.

Unlike the libidinously superficial romantic triads of Kissing Jessica Stein and the British Imagine Me & You, a lesbian's perspective is at the center here. The alluring Elizabeth Reaser stars as relationship-o-phobic Allegra, on the rebound from Samantha (Julianne Nicholson) and now in love with both a straight man Philip (Justin Kirk), who shares her love for opera, and a dazzling straight woman, Gretchen Mol's Grace. The element that is expected to make this movie a contemporary homage to classic screwball comedies, hinted at by Allegra's fondness for such films as Holiday, is that Philip and Grace are former lovers. This crucial coincidence is introduced in a confrontation during the prologue, with the rest of the film resigned to be a flashback with routine Carrie Bradshaw-like narration as well as the droll touches of passers-by commenting on Allegra's convoluted liaisons.

Though the men glimpsed in the background seem to be stuck babbling in a frat house, Philip is a carnally cool intellectual, but his proficiency in Kant is used tritely for too many puns and raise off-the-screen questions such as how does someone become an assistant professor in the philosophy department at Columbia without a PhD? Allegra's friends are icons and cartoonish characters such as a laughless feminist editor, a lipstick lesbian, and a supportive, lusciously straight woman. Mol's sensuous Doris Day appeal worked well in The Notorious Bettie Page, but here the only way her cloying, naive nagging could be a believable as an investment banker is through futures trading in in pork bellies.

Written & Directed by: Maria Maggenti.
Produced by: Eden H. Wurmfeld, Gary Winick & Jake Abraham.
Director of Photography: Mauricio Rubinstein.
Edited by: Susan Graef.
Music: Terry Dame.
Released by: Strand Releasing.
Country of Origin: USA. 81 min. Not Rated.
With: Elizabeth Reaser, Justin Kirk, Gretchen Mol, Jennifer Dundas, Julianne Nicholson andlesb Tina Benko.


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