A review of “Under the Tuscan Sun” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: **

Rating: PG-13 for mild nudity, sexual innuendo, and language

Run Time: 1 hour, 53 minutes

 

           

Since the 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.

Lane is 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.

Sick and 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 emotion.

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.