Under the Tuscan Sun
Directed by Audrey Wells. Starring Diane Lane, Sandra Oh, Lindsay Duncan, Raoul Bova. (2003, PG-13, 113 min.)
REVIEWED By Marrit Ingman, Fri., Sept. 26, 2003
Writer/director Wells turns the eponymous memoir by Frances Mayes into a predictable but agreeable, sun-dappled Eurocomedy. Call it How Frances Got Her Groove Back, with Bella Italia substituting for the Caribbean so that our heroine can look radiant in fine wool and serve up heaping plates of rustic cuisine. This movie divided me utterly. My cynical half hated it, despite the presence of Lane, who is so magnetic that she could prance around the countryside in the absence of plot and still be compelling somehow. And then there’s Oh, a magnificent, expressive actor who’s also wonderful to watch, even if she functions as the lesbian second banana who magically facilitates Lane’s transformation from a prissy San Francisco intellectual to the den mother to a tribe of whimsical expatriates and villagers. It’s a joy to see them work together, all the same. And the film has a nice, mellow, almost utopian vibe, indubitably. I liked its ragtag, democratic community of outsiders – literature professors, strapping Polish boys, wacky grandmothers, blowsy aging starlets (Duncan, whom I sincerely believed was a drag queen). As embarrassing as it is to say, Tuscan Sun made me happy. Lane has fantastic, liberating sex with an Italian himbo in full view of the Mediterranean coast, surrounded by antiques – and she leaves her Italian boots on! Then I realized the movie was playing me like a concertina, and I felt bitter and resentful. Oh, look! A tiny kitten for Lane to cuddle! A busload of shiny, happy gays and lesbians to cheer Lane on to romantic and emotional fulfillment! Vespa jokes! Flag-throwing festivals! Reassuring platitudes ("Never lose your childish enthusiasm")! Don’t get me started on the shameless house porn: Lane’s villa undergoes a complete overhaul, sure to satisfy the home-repair fetishist in all of us. I didn’t quite buy Lane as a cutely neurotic urbanite, à la Meg Ryan, who’s afraid of pigeons and snakes and loud noises: If Diane Lane had a snake in her bedroom, she’d grab a rake and whack the shit out of it. Lane works in the role when Frances starts to warm up, with her little knowing smiles and serene confidence. But Lane isn’t the problem; the movie is too formulaic to fit her completely. Wells, who moved from penning the intriguing The Truth About Cats and Dogs and Guinevere to more standard Hollywood fare (George of the Jungle, Disney’s The Kid), adapts her source material clunkily, retaining internal monologue as voiceover that beats the viewer over the head about following your passion. All right already! Viewers who can accept these shortcomings – and focus on what’s really important, such as Lane’s adorable berets – will likely enjoy Tuscan Sun. It’s better than average as a genre film, it’s handsomely made, and the cast is nicely invested. And that house really is quite remarkable.