Thursday 4 October 2018

Movie Review: Under The Tuscan Sun (2003)

A romantic drama with hints of humour, Under The Tuscan Sun features beautiful scenery and a subtle central performance, but otherwise settles into routine rhythms.

San Francisco-based author Frances Mayes (Diane Lane) is shocked to learn that her husband has been cheating. For emotional support she leans on her best friend Patti (Sandra Oh), who is in a seemingly happy relationship with Grace (Kate Walsh). After a painful divorce Frances reluctantly accepts Patti's gift to go on a tour of Tuscany. When the tour stops in the small town of Cortona, Frances spots a 300 year old villa for sale and buys it on a whim, deciding to settle in the area.

She meets the locals, including kindly real estate agent Martini (Vincent Riotta) and eccentric aging actress Katherine (Lindsay Duncan), and hires a group of Polish immigrants, including the young Pawel (Pawel Szajda), to fix the place up. Frances snaps out of her loneliness when she meets the stunningly suave Marcello (Raoul Bova), while Patti shows up for a visit and Pawel embarks on his own romantic adventure.

Written and directed by Audrey Wells, Under The Tuscan Sun is very loosely based on the memoir by Frances Mayes. The film mixes plenty of sun-kissed travelogue-style scenery with an understated story about coping with the aftermath of divorce, loneliness, and looking for love in middle age. The film does little that is original or unexpected, but within the confines of its ambitions, this is a polished, well executed and warm experience.

Much of the credit goes to an effervescent Diane Lane, who projects a range of emotions from the emotional gut punch of losing a seemingly perfect life to the giddy excitement of finding new romance, often with magnificent subtlety. She plays a victim, a seductress, a friend, a lover and a mentor, all with a rare authenticity.

Once the film settles down in Italy the plot consists of mildly amusing episodes mixing local culture with gradual emotional recovery, of course paralleled by the house repairs. The locals are all either friendly or traditionally stereotypical, and the landscape vistas and local village festivals are never less than postcard perfect. The plight of immigrants, traditional family values and the legendary silkiness of Italian lovers are among the marginal themes touched upon lightly by Wells' inoffensive script.

And that ultimately is where Under The Tuscan Sun lands. Pretty to look at, anchored by an actress in wondrous form, and without a sharp edge in sight.

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  1. better than the horrible Eat, Pray, Love. Same type of film, only the character of Frances Mayes is far more sympathetic & understanding.

    1. Totally agree. The character of Frances also was victimized, rather than walking out on a privileged life.

    2. precisely. her husband dumped her, which is why I emphasised with her more.

  2. For me, this is 100% forgettable fluff. It's fine for a watch on a lazy weekend afternoon, but nothing about it sticks with you. I've seen it twice and can give you any details other than how pretty some of the frames are.

    1. Agreed: well-produced, harmless, and forgettable.


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