Under the Tuscan Sun (2003)

reviewed by
Robin Clifford

"Under the Tuscan Sun"

Fresh from her no fault California divorce, San Francisco writer Frances Mayes (Diane Lane) is about to have her life turned around when her pregnant friend Patti (Sandra Oh) gives her a first class ticket to Tuscany, Italy. On impulse she buys a charming but dilapidated villa called Bramasole and Francesca immerses herself in the friendship and romance she discovers "Under the Tuscan Sun."

Director/writer Audrey Wells takes literary license in her freehanded adaptation of Frances Mayes first book of memoirs about her life in Italy. Wells actually uses elements of Frances's true-life adventures of living in an ancient land where life, wine and food are the important things. The screenplay changes things from the book on one important point - Frances is divorced. This one difference helps to give "Under the Tuscan Sun" a depth that propels it from travelogue to a sweet, sometimes funny sometimes melancholy, romance.

Diane Lane, beautifully tanned and looking gorgeous, embodies Frances. When we first meet her, she is at a party where she is confronted by a writer whose book she gave a bad review - it isn't a pretty scene. Then, she learns that her husband is divorcing her and wants alimony. Actually, his new fiancee wants the house that Frances has spent years making perfect and he buys his ex-wife's share. Her life suddenly in a whirl, France moves into a short-term apartment complex that houses, mainly, divorced, unhappy people. Not to worry, she is assured by the manager, with her writing skills she can help the other tenants with their suicide notes.

Patti, very pregnant and unable to travel, and her same sex mate give Frances their tickets for a trip to Tuscany (on a gay bus tour) and the writer reluctantly accepts. When visiting one little town she sees a beautiful old villa, Bramasole, listed for sale. She thinks nothing of it until, later, the bus stops - right in front of the aforementioned villa. She impulsively takes her bags and leaves the tour. Once inside the beautiful old manor she meets the aged owner and her realtor, Senor Martini (Vincent Riotta). Another couple is also interested in the property and the old lady starts to make outrageous price demands. The German couple leaves. Then, a pigeon poops on Frances and it is a "signale de Deo" for the owner and the villa that "yearns for the sun" belongs to the pretty American.

Frances hires a contactor and his three Polish workers to repair and renovate Bramasole. She falls in love with the slow-paced, peaceful life of Tuscany and learns to love the ways of the locals. She keeps crossing paths with an expatriated, elegant Brit, Katherine (Lindsay Duncan), who keeps offering words of advise about love and Italy. She also has a chance meeting with a handsome man, Marcello (Raoul Bova), who hits her with his come-on lines - "That's exactly the kind of thing we American women think Italian men say." She then asks him to sleep with her. "That's exactly the kind of thing we Italian men think American women say," he responds, smiling.

The cast of beautiful people, besides Lane, make "Under the Tuscan Sun" easy on the eyes, especially for the ladies. Italian hunk superstar, Bova, is what every woman would think of as a romantic Roman and his Marcello brings that to the screen unaffectedly. Riotta gives dimension to his portray of Senor Martini as a man who falls for the beauty, warmth and vulnerability of the American but, married with children, will only allow himself to admire from afar. It's a small role but the actor gives it believable depth - especially with a soliloquy about a trainless train track in the Alps as a metaphor of hope and belief.

A little side story has Frances playing cupid for one of the Polish workers, Pawel (Pawel Szadja), and a local girl, Chiara (Giulia Steigerwalt), as they must overcome the girl's father's prejudice about foreigners. Another thread that is nicely woven into the tapestry of "Under the Tuscan Sun" involves bon vivant Katherine and the troubles that can cast dark shadows over a seemingly carefree existence. This culminates in a well-done homage to the Trevi Fountain scene from Fellini's "La Dolce Vita" that is strikingly vivid.

Audrey Wells does a solid job in both adapting the Mayes memoir and giving the basic story a life of its own on the big screen. She gets good performances from all involved and musters the behind-the-camera crew with an assured hand. It also helps to have the beautiful locations and the lensing ability of Geoffrey Simpson. Production design, under Stephen McCabe, helps make Bramasole a major character in the film. Nicoletta Ercole's costume design melds nicely with the overall look and warmth of the Tuscan sun.

"Under the Tuscan Sun " is, first and foremost, a chick flick that deserves a good showing at the box office from its target audience. It has romance, beautiful people, a magnificent backdrop in Tuscany, Rome and Florence, good characters and a nice arc of hope. I give it a B.

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X-RT-RatingText: B

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