Frances Mayes is a San Francisco-based literature professor, literary reviewer and author, who is struggling in writing her latest book. Her outwardly perfect and stable life takes an unexpected turn when her husband files for divorce. He wants to marry the woman with whom he is having an affair. Frances supported her husband financially as he was writing his own book, and he sues her for alimony despite her financial difficulties. And he wants to keep the house. Frances eventually accepts her best friend Patti's offer of a vacation, a gay tour of Tuscany which Patti and her lesbian partner Grace originally purchased for themselves before Patti found out that she is pregnant. The gift is a means to escape dealing with the divorce, from which Patti feels Frances may never recover emotionally without some intervention. Feeling that Patti's assessment may be correct in that she has too much emotional baggage ever to return to San Francisco, Frances, while in Tuscany, impulsively ditches ... Written by
"Under the Tuscan Sun" is a polarizing film that seems to leave viewers (and critics) either in love with a story of growth and renewal or dismissive of its line. I'm firmly in the former camp.
Based so loosely on Frances Mayes's own account of her regeneration in beautiful Italy as to carry an end credit pronouncing that substantial fictionalization replaced key true details, writer and director Audrey Wells crafted a stunning vehicle for Diane Lane whose radiance projects from the screen powerfully. And in every scene.
Diane Lane, as the changed-from-the-memoir Frances, abandons San Francisco after her never shown cad husband divorces her, getting the house she once loved. Frances is a writer and literary critic. Why does she leave S.F.? Two of her closest friends give her a ticket for a gay bus tour of Italy and she jumps off the bus to look into a ramshackle old country house up for sale. Impetuosity? Definitely. Believable? Yes, actually.
Frances' new house isn't a handyman's special, it's a contractor's assurance of food on the table for a very long time. Frances adapts to the house and the locals with remarkable aplomb. Tuscany is sunny but its light fades before Frances's challenged but resilient commitment to not just restore a house but to create a home. The two aren't the same. I'm not sure how many male directors could so well create that reality.
Director Wells tells the story from a woman's heart but with a breadth of humor and drama that should appeal to anyone who wants to believe, or needs to hope, that there really is a light at the end of the tunnel of marital infidelity and dissolution.
Supporting Diane Lane is Sandra Oh as Patti, her closest friend. In relatively short scenes, Ms. Oh displays a lively and laconic grasp not only of her friend's life but also of her own which is not, as they say today, devoid of "issues."
Lindsay Duncan is Katharine, an older woman determined to hold on to her now fading attractiveness through a blend of humor, earthiness - and alcohol. Her character may be predictable but she's also fun.
Raoul Bova has garnered some press attention as handsome Marcello, the romantically available and affluent Italian. That's a character we've seen in many, many films and Bova delivers an expectedly satisfactory but hardly deep performance.
Yes, Diane Lane is beautiful but there is much more to her acting than a shining appearance. Her facial gestures, mirroring her emotions as they shift from moment to moment, are the product of extraordinary acting ability. And her character draws a powerful portrayal.
Credit also must go to cinematographer Geoffrey Simpson. Perhaps it would be impossible for a blind camera director to turn in anything but a gorgeous visage of rural and urban Italy but Simpson did do a marvelous job of making the locales come alive.
This is a film for adults, for people who can understand pain and the search for recovery and understand the difficulty of coming back from a space that once offered the mirage of safety and security.
I loved this film.
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