A review of “Under the
Tuscan Sun” by Jeanne Aufmuth
Rating: PG-13 for mild
nudity, sexual innuendo, and language
hour, 53 minutes
success (and subsequent Best Actress Oscar nom) of “Unfaithful”, Diane
Lane has been standing on the threshold
of headlining glory. Unfortunate for her
that she chose this la-dolce-vita “charmer” that relies on sap and sentiment to
slide it into home plate.
thoroughly convincing as real-life San
Francisco writer Frances Mayes, whose
unexpected divorce at age 35 has thrown her for a bitter loop. Determined to shake her post-break-up melancholy,
Frances allows well-meaning
friends to talk her into a ten-day tour of Tuscany. Which segues into a Plot when Frances impulsively
purchases a dilapidated, 300-year old villa called “Bramasole” in the heart of
sun-kissed northwest Italy.
tired of living in dread, Frances embraces
the pressures of home ownership (and the inevitable hellish remodeling) with
unrelenting determination. Creepy
crawlers, incessant leaks and raining plaster are comic fodder for a poignant
transition. Not to mention a parade of European hunks --- Italian real estate
agents, Polish contractors and the like --- who dot the landscape of Frances’ quirky
new existence. Frances embraces
her rediscovery, and the spontaneous charms of her adopted land, by rising
above the inescapable language barriers and cultural misconceptions with a
healthy helping of humor.
Up to this
point the film has crowd-pleaser written all over it. Lane is vibrant and genuine, and the action
is fresh, lively and fun. Act Two travels sadly south as Frances succumbs
to the standard clichés of smooth but unfaithful lovers, lesbian confidants and
lonely moon-washed nights. Distractions
in the form of an aging English socialite (Lindsay Duncan) who worships at the
altar of Fellini and a pregnant chum (Sandra Oh) landing unceremoniously on
Bramasole’s doorstep are just that; frivolous diversions fraught with false
On the plus
side, Tuscany is a sexy
locale – lush and fecund with ambiance.
The laughter and tears are finely tuned for little over sixty minutes, but
the maddening slide-scale narrative (the bane of critics worldwide) sees the
film firmly entrenched in two-star territory by the time the lights come up.