Puccini for Beginners

This is a rare case of a decent script done wrong by a goofball presentation. Director Maria Maggenti, whose The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love is one of the five most charming lesbian teen movies ever, somehow veers into sitcom-style zaniness with her latest. It’s a comedy about a woman who is dating a man … and that man’s ex-girlfriend! Ohmigod, if Mr. Roper finds out, he’ll kick Jack out of the apartment! Gretchen Mol, who can be excellent, plays the ex-girlfriend part as a paper-thin stereotype of a heterosexual woman: She loves cuddling and puppies and, oh golly gosh, sometimes her eyelids just flutter for no reason whatsoever! Justin Kirk is equally clichéd as the heterosexual philosophy professor. His dialogue is a painfully embarrassing parody of liberal academic speak: It’s not just that no one actually talks like that; it’s that no one ever would talk like that. Elizabeth Reaser, as the leading lesbian, is actually pretty good, but she’s the standout in a room full of two-dimensional characters. The script has lots of decent lines, but they’re so poorly executed that only about 20 percent of them hit; when every other character is a cardboard cutout, and when the set for the apartment shared by two straight men is composed of a recliner, a bicycle and some sporting equipment, the shortcuts in narrative become a little too obvious.

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