One of Puccini's greatest strengths is its dialogue. Maggenti has a knack for smart, funny conversation, and her actors are skilled at delivering it. The lines aren't so contrived that you're constantly aware that this is a movie rather than real life, yet the characters say things that are funnier than the routine dialogue of real life.
Reaser's performance as Allegra stands out.
Not only does she have excellent comic timing, she embodies her character in a way that makes her as complicated as she is familiar and endearing, and as charismatic as she is physically appealing. And even if I'm the only one who thinks Reaser vaguely resembles Penelope Cruz, I'm convinced there's at least something similar in their smiles.
It's hard to tell whether Mol's performance as Grace is flat or if she simply has weaker material to work with. Her character is certainly less well-drawn. We're left with little to reconcile her flightiness with the fact that she's an investment banker, and while her passion for glass-blowing makes sense, it only makes her day job that much more implausible.
When she brings her steering wheel club inside with her because it's expensive and she doesn't want it to get stolen, it's just not funny. And it seems especially like forced cuteness when she winds up clutching it awkwardly as she and Allegra kiss at the entrance to the subway.
But the fact that the women kiss at a subway entrance exemplifies another of the film's strengths. Throughout the film, Puccini portrays lesbian affection in public with never a negative consequence. While this may be more fantasy than reality, it's refreshing to see the positive images, and this is certainly a feel-good movie.
I just wish that Grace and Allegra could share as much chemistry as Philip and Allegra do. Kirk's is another standout performance; he shines here as he does in other films and in the Showtime series Weeds. Lesbians may cringe when Allegra leads Philip on at the same time that she's insisting she can't be attracted to him because she's a lesbian, but ultimately this is no Chasing Amy.
Julianne Nicholson and Tina Benko turn in strong supporting roles as Samantha and Allegra's ex-girlfriend Nell, respectively. Benko in particular expertly delivers some of the film's funniest lines.
But everyone's big question is: Does our hero end up with the guy or the girl? Well, you'll find no spoiler here other than this: a) it's more complicated than that, and b) everyone ends up with who they were meant to be with.
Puccini for Beginners is now available on DVD. Watch the trailer here:
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