Seeing the Humor in Sexual Identity

GreenCineStaff's picture

By Michael Guillen

(Originally appeared February 3, 2007)

"...sex, certainly sexual identity, is so complicated."

In 1995, writer-director Maria Maggenti turned conventional narrative on its ear by melding it with a lesbian teen romance, creating The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love. Over a decade later, Maggenti tweaks the romantic comedy once again in her InDiGent production of Puccini for Beginners, this time limning gender fluidity with laughs and posing fresh questions for an evolving queer community. Whether on the large screen or on the scale of microcinema, Maggenti's full-bodied humor feels enlightened and inventive, and nowhere is this more evident than in the interview she has conducted with herself for Landmark Theatres' FLM magazine. Whether reading her full-fledged attack on herself over her authorial choices or bantering with her during a recent telephone interview, I can't help chuckling along with Maria Maggenti.

So, Maria, down the line do you think Puccini for Beginners will be included in a Screwball Comedy Film Festival?

Wouldn't that be nice? I would be honored to be included.

Screwball comedies are obviously a genre with which you are clearly familiar and comfortable playing with. Why screwball comedies?

Well, I guess it's a certain amount of nostalgia. I grew up watching those movies. I was lucky enough to have my mother take my sister and me on Friday nights to see the American Film Institute in Washington, D.C. Long before kids stayed at home and watched videos, we went and saw black-and-white movies. I grew up with a great love of that form and later studied it quite extensively on my own, reading about how they made the movies and who the filmmakers were. I'm curious with how this film will do because it's a form that's hard to pull off, and I don't know if even I did it as well as I should have. It's a tough form in a time when we have so many problems, y'know? The fact that I decided to do a screwball comedy when we're faced with this horrible war in Iraq and the rise of the Christian Right and all that stuff, I hope is not a mistake on my part.

I hardly think so. We all need a good laugh during times like these, and besides, weren't the screwball comedies a direct response to the Depression? Perhaps it's an essential dyad: hard times and good laughs? Puccini For Beginners came to San Francisco last year as the opening night feature for Frameline 30. Unfortunately, I missed it at that time, but I'm curious to know how it did with the crowd.

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