|Under the Tuscan Sun|
|DVD Romantic Drama|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 03 February 2004|
“Under the Tuscan Sun” is a perfectly nice movie that could probably have been made at any time after it became acceptable for female leads to have affairs in movies. For those who don’t especially like “perfectly nice,” the movie – per the title – has gorgeous Italian scenery and the not-too-shabby-looking Diane Lane to recommend it. Those who still don’t see the allure are out of luck.
Director/screenwriter Audrey Wells has adapted Frances Mayes’ non-fiction autobiographical tome into a pretty and soothing comedy/drama that never becomes hilarious or especially sad. Lane plays Mayes, a writer in San Francisco who doesn’t realize her marriage is in trouble until she’s told about it by a total stranger. Suddenly facing divorce and the loss of her house, Frances accepts the gift of a tour of Tuscany from some friends. Impulsively, she purchases a picturesque albeit rundown villa that’s for sale, despite the fact that she knows no one in the country and in fact doesn’t even speak the language. Frances is suffering from heavy depression and writer’s block, but gradually the charms of everyday life – and a hot affair – start to draw her back into the land of the living. While feeling somewhat blue about the vicissitudes of her own love life, Frances also manages to play matchmaker and savior to her young, Polish-immigrant carpenter and a local lass from an upper-middle-class family.
Wells previously wrote and directed the acutely observant “Guinevere,” which managed to be both sympathetic and caustic in its observation of an affair between a woman barely out of her teens and a self-destructive man in his 40s. “Under the Tuscan Sun” is much safer territory in every respect. Nobody ever says anything actually silly, but the insights are all comfortable and pre-tested. Frances’ friends give her the benefit of their observations, she is supportive of them and even when things go wrong, somehow everything seems to fit together fairly harmoniously. There’s nothing wrong with this scenario – it just isn’t especially dramatic or innovative.
Lane is lovely and intelligent and Sandra Oh and Lindsay Duncan both make good impressions as old and new friends, respectively. Geoffrey Simpson’s cinematography is sumptuous, with brilliant colors and the sound is extremely good. Chapter 3 starts with a strikingly loud, full bus rumble, while a screen full of orange-red umbrellas are dazzling without fragmenting. Chapter 4 features a very enveloping rainstorm in all the speakers. Chapter 5 treats us to an actually alarming volcanic rumble (Californian viewers may find themselves muttering, “It’s only a movie!”). Chapter 8 has a really beguiling transition, as the scene goes from day to twilight to night, with a Maxfield Parrish look that somehow segues into a starry sky and then the back of a chair in a neat cinematic flourish. Chapter 9 has great, encompassing crowd sounds and a beautiful collage of color and movement as a local pageant takes place, complete with substantial whooshing sounds as flags are twirled in a duel of skill.
Audio commentary by Wells is thoughtful and informative about the adaptation from book to screen. There are three deleted scenes, one of them featuring a creditably operatic a cappella number from a singing building contractor, and there’s a decent making-of featurette with lots of observations from Wells and Lane.
“Under the Tuscan Sun” is a pleasant, pretty feel-good feature, comfort food for people who want something attractive and familiar.