This intermittently engaging variation on Woody Allen's Manhattan will appeal most to lesbians, but turns out to be a brisk, screwball comedy.
In Puccini for Beginners, actress Elizabeth Reaser, very good as a mail-order bride in the period film Sweet Land, shows some range as Allegra. Reaser may not turn out to have the kind of success of a Meryl Streep who played a similar character in the aforementioned Allen film. But, she's able to let an audience in to her personal life, especially when it concerns commitment.
The feminist lesbian author becomes more self-deprecating as her girlfriend (Julianne Nicholson) rekindles a relationship with a guy. Allegra needs at least a quick intimate fix, and Philip (Justin Kirk), a Philosophy Professor at Columbia, is convenient. And, Philip has the same foibles going on as his investment banker girlfriend Grace (Gretchen Mol of The Notorious Bettie Page) becomes involved with Allegra.
Writer director Maria Maggenti works out this strange interconnection between the three, along with the viewpoints of Allegra's friends, with some affection for "Sex and the City", as the climax arrives at an engagement party.
The characters, especially Allegra and Grace, buy into the milieu, and mostly make the dialogue work, even if turns out not to be on the level of Allen over a generation ago. It does elicit more laughter than Allen has in his more recent efforts like Scoop, even if one may find some of it to be a little far-fetched. Importantly, more casting directors may be committing to Reaser, realizing more potential after the promise as a Norweigan in 1920's Minnesota.
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