Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Puccini For Beginners

One does not need to be a fan of opera to understand that opera is a high art form with theatrically dramatic elements. Puccini For Beginners shares nothing with opera other than a minor thread that ties a couple of the characters together. The film lacks the passion that I associate with opera. In fact, I did not find anything within this film that could possibly impel a diva to burst forth with an aria. Puccini For Beginners was a mediocre film that tried hard to be relevant, but fell flat in the process.

Allegara (Elizabeth Reaser) is a lesbian. She is defined by that aspect of her being. She is not an opera lover that likes women, she is not a New Yorker who attends opera and sleeps with women. She is not an author who enjoys the company of women. She is a lesbian. That is the central theme of Allegra’s character. Allegra sees the world (to include Opera) through a woman empowered worldview. This is demonstrated through discussions about opera with her friends where Allegra uses fancy words like “misogynist,” to describe composers. Allegra’s discussions seem plebian and weak with very little substance to support her tepid assertions. But it helped paint the picture regarding who Allegra is.

Puccini For Beginners expects viewers to swallow the idea that Allegra, whose primary identity is her sexuality, would become intimately involved with Philip (Justin Kirk) who she becomes enamored with when she learns that he has read her book. A couple of chance encounters lead to a passionate session of lovemaking. But all is not well in paradise…small idiosyncrasies (like Philip’s propensity to ask “what are you having” before ordering a meal) seem to start adding up. Allegra appears to be lacking something, which has been a common theme in her relationships. Probably because Allegra is afraid of commitment…something she views as a straight trait. When Allegra meets Grace (Gretchen Mol) she begins a second simultaneous relationship. She is not aware that Grace and Philip have been dating for six years and are going through emotional growing pains (probably the result of Philips own aversion to commitment). This unusual love triangle provides a few opportunities for some comic interaction. However, those opportunities appeared to be squandered.

The entire premise of this story required a great deal of commitment from the audience. We had to accept that a love triangle could develop accidentally between a group of people that know each other, without realizing that they are dating each other. If you suspend belief and allow the comic value of the situation to set in, it’s not a ridiculously bad concept. Yet the execution of this concept seems to fall short. The ending ties things up neatly but not realistically. The situations that evolve were awkward and incredible. I was not buying several of the scenes. They just didn’t seem to me to be situations that would evolve the way the film has them evolve. Everything from the dialogue to the character development to the character interaction seemed contrived to me. It was a complete mess on several levels.

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