A married woman realizes how unhappy her marriage really is, and that her life needs to go in a different direction. After a painful divorce, she takes off on a round-the-world journey to "find herself".
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
Sappy and unrealistic, but still strangely charming...
Poet and writer Frances Mayes became a household name when in 1996 she published "Under the Tuscan Sun", a book where she detailed how she and her new lover bought and renovated an abandoned villa in Tuscany, Italy. With her stylish prose, she made the book something more than a mere diary of the renovation and turned into a captivating chronicle of her trips through Italy and her familiarization with the country's rich culture. The book's detailed account of Mayes' trips attracted director Audrey Wells, who used the book's story of the renovation of an Italian villa as a basis for this charming romantic comedy set in Tuscany and starring Diane Lane.
Frances (Diane Lane) is a writer in her mid-30s currently suffering writer's block, but this is the lesser of her problems, as her husband suddenly decides to divorce her and as a result of legal issues, he keeps their house. Without a place to call home, Frances enters a state of depression, but her friend Patti (Sandra Oh) has a solution. Since Patti (who is a lesbian) has become pregnant, she and her partner offer Frances their tickets to Italy and convince her to take a holiday. While traveling through Tuscanny with the tour, Frances finds an abandoned villa for sale, and impulsively (and thanks to a series of consequences), she decides to buy it. "Under the Tuscan Sun" details France's efforts to renovate the villa and her life at the same time, as well as her encounters with many interesting characters from the beautiful Italian region.
Well, it is safe to point out that other than the tale of the renovation of an old house, Audrey Well's adaptation of the story has little to no resemblance to the book's plot. However, the way Wells mixes Mayes' Italian adventure with her character's own tribulations is almost perfect. True, the movie's plot is a bit typical and filled with some of the most common clichés in the romantic comedy genre, but it also offers some really nice (and unexpected) twists to the formula. While not exactly the detailed travelogue that Mayes' book is, this version of "Under the Tuscan Sun" really captures the magic of the Italian region and accurately shows off bits of the country's culture despite the funny use of classic stereotypes.
Director Audrey Wells takes a straight forward approach to her story, but wisely, takes full advantage of the location's awesome landscapes and the enormous talent of cinematographer Geoffrey Simpson. Together, Simpson and Wells create beautiful vistas of Italy's famous countryside that often mimic in a cleverly fashion some very well-known paintings of the same locations. The film's cinematography is definitely the movie's main asset, but it's not the only good thing in the film. While in terms of style Wells follows the romantic comedy formula somewhat to the letter, the movie is filled with a very human touch that most movies of this genre lack.
Diane Lane is simply perfect as the movie's main character, as while the role may be a bit typical, she truly added her talents to the part and made Frances a very real and likable woman. Sandra Oh is good as Frances' best friend Patti, although really less convincing than Lane. Vincent Riotta is the film's highlight, as the helpful Mr. Martini who also gives two or three lessons to the stranger in a strange land. Lindsay Duncan appears as the strange Katherine, and plays an over-the-top character with dignity and charm. Overall the rest of the cast was very good, with everyone being perfect to the part although nothing really special. By the way, watch out for a small appearance of legendary director Mario Monicelli in a small role.
It's impossible to compare the film to the book as they are both very different beasts, with very little in common; so fans of the book won't find a faithful adaptation despite the gorgeous images of Italy. As a film, "Under the Tuscan Sun" is a very effective melodrama, as while it's certainly sappy and silly at times, it offers a breath of fresh air when compared to other similar films. True, it's story may not be the most original one, but the way it's executed it's strangely charming, as if the beautiful cinematography and witty script were able to cast a magic spell on the viewers and simply captivate with their simple beauty.
It's easy to dismiss "Under the Tuscan Sun" as another silly romantic comedy filled with typical clichés and sappy situations; but while those descriptions often prove true to this film, there is something else, something more that this movie offers that makes it special, and a truly different experience to those used to watch the same plots in melodramas over and over. "Under the Tuscan Sun" may not be true to its source book, but it uses it cleverly to tells a really charming story. 7/10
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