19 June 2007

Puccini for Beginners

You know, you can get away with an awful lot if your characters are extremely likeable. Because after all, when you're watching a movie, you're basically spending time with a bunch of fictional people. So if you like them, you'll probably have a good time, even if what you're doing isn't that great. It's kind of like hanging out with a good friend of yours and listening to him/her tell and long story that isn't really that interesting, but you don't really care, because you're just sitting around shooting the shit with someone you care about.

This isn't to say that Puccini for Beginners isn't an entertaining flick. I enjoyed it mightily. But it's basically a cheesy romantic comedy, except with lesbian sex and occasionally cerebral dialogue. It's sort of like Sex in the City for bisexual intellectuals. I suppose your average viewer would find it incredibly pretentious to have the main character strolling down the street musing about Freud's views on coincidence, but I, of course, loved it. Not that the ideas were particularly profound; they were just nicely packaged in some intellectual evening wear. You could say the same thing without namechecking Freud and it would come off as standard rom-com cliche, and probably placate people who felt that the movie was just trying to be snooty and elitist, but goddamnit, give credit where it's due, eh?

The movie follows a young woman named Allegra who, after a rather unpleasant break-up, falls into a relationship with a philosophy professor and, coincidentally, also finds herself sort of cheating on him with his kind of ex-girlfriend (played by a very cute Gretchen Mol). Though none of them realize this until late into Act Two of the film. Allegra is absolutely charming. You can't help but like her. She's smart, witty, and has that kind of helpless flighty nature that makes her seem adorable even when she's being a total asshole. She never really means to harm anyone, she's just kind of self-centered and inconsiderate sometimes. In a way, she acts like the stereotypical "average guy" - a fact that the movie does not neglect to point out. Incidentally, she's also supposed to be a lesbian, so this whole relationship-with-a-guy thing kind of freaks her out, and leads to some nice reflections on sexuality and its stereotypes. It's well done, though again, could strike the average viewer as overly intellectualized. To me though, it seemed to strike just the right balance, not too anguished, maybe a bit narcissistic, but really just kind of enjoying the juxtaposition of theory and practice. Then again, I am often told that I overanalyze things, and especially things of this nature.

The film also has the whole "love story in and about new york city" thing going, but this is also done quite well. Random strangers offer commentary on the action - most delightfully, 2 sushi chefs; where, incidentally, the film earns extra points by actually having new yorkers speak foreign languages, a nice bit of realism - or give Allegra advice. I suppose it's a cheap trick, but it's kind of a sweet way of capturing the odd spirit of the city.

The film has been compared to early Woody Allen movies, and certainly the influence is there, with the New York thing, the coincidences leading to hopelessly tangled romantic debacles, the characters busting out fifty cent words like "pulchritudinous", and well-meaning but highly self-centered cast, but still, it's no Annie Hall. It's a fun movie, but ultimately, the characters are just a bit too good to be true, especially in terms of their blase attitudes about their own sexuality, and the plot works out just a tad too neatly. It doesn't quite manage to strike the delicate balance of Woody Allen at his best. All in all though, a fun movie.

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