The opening-night aGLIFF screening, Puccini for Beginners, was a sweet little old-fashioned comedy about bisexuality, sexual identity and juggling multiple lovers. You could almost take your mom to see it -- if your mom isn't the type to faint at the sight of women kissing or the sound of a Hitachi. Writer-director Maria Maggenti also directed another well-known romantic comedy, the 1995 film The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love.
The title refers to the favorite hobby of Allegra (Elizabeth Reaser), an opera fiend who is continually landing herself into situations of an overly dramatic nature (a la grand opera), or nursing a broken heart. Her girlfriend Samantha leaves her because she feels Allegra is unable to commit, and besides, Samantha keeps claiming she's not a lesbian anyway. Allegra mopes around until she spends an evening with Philip (Justin Kirk), who cheers her up ... and most unexpectedly, turns her on. On top of everything else, she starts suffering a sexual-identity crisis because of Philip. She also develops a friendship with Grace (Gretchen Mol), an investment banker by day, glassblower by night who's having trouble with her longtime live-in boyfriend.
We already know, from the first scene, what ultimately will happen, since most of the movie is a flashback, recounted by Allegra in voiceover. But the journey back to that point is fairly entertaining, if not exactly suspenseful -- we know what's going on before the characters do. The New York-centric movie owes a great debt to Woody Allen, specifically Annie Hall, as it uses many of the same narrative techniques. Passersby often stop what they're doing to give Allegra advice or comment on her situation. However, the unreal character interactions aren't handled consistently: In one scene, it's obvious that a waitress advising Allegra is actually a fantasy moment occurring only in her own head -- but a few scenes later, everyone around her witnesses the subway announcer berating Allegra for her life choices. After the farcical climactic scene, which returns to the teaser at the beginning of the film, the ending drags and barely resolves itself.