Under the Tuscan Sun is your basic chick flick, but with a few turns of redeeming social value, and an aftertaste of enough feel-good to warrant an endorsement.
The book on which it is based is supposedly the true epic of Frances Mayes. Who am I to doubt this, but some of the characters are just a little too contrived to be true.
No matter, the movie is held together by a solid performance by Diane Lane. The movie gods have paid her back for cheating on her husband in her last movie, Unfaithful, and this time it is her turn to be cheated on by her husband, who she leaves without further ado.
Her best friends are lesbians, a little twist from the classic play book of this genre, but certainly in bounds in the year of Boy Meets Boy and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Her friends want her to be happy but not to be hit on in her vulnerable state of grief. They themselves have just discovered that “they are pregnant,” with Patti, an ebullient Asian woman who flutters with positive vibrations, the biologic mom.
They send Frances in their place on a tour to Italy, loaded with gay guys. As they traverse Tuscany, a little voice tells her to buy a creaky, decrepit villa. She strikes an unlikely bargain and steals the house from under an unpleasant German couple.
She is helped is this prestidigitation by Senor Martini, the handsome Italian guy that you presume will become the boyfriend. Don't hold your breath.
The most unlikely character is Katherine, a daffy throwback who purportedly has had a fling with Fellini, which justifies the inclusion of tidbits of Fellini movies. This woman wears oversized picture hats that identify her as eccentric and likely providing comic relief, but it is an unnecessary distraction.
Frances wants a man and a family and dreams of a wedding in her villa. Mr. Right is served up on her door step, and sweeps her off to his home in Positano—the jewel of the Amalfi coast really quite a journey from Tuscany, but let us not get Italian geography and traffic get in the way of a good love interest.
Marcello (we already have Fellini going here, and perhaps he is meant to evoke Mastroiani) is a sculpted god from a Harlequin romance cover. Despite the obvious attraction, Frances inexplicably gets tied up in her house renovation and the sad arrival of her friend Patti, ready to deliver her baby, but having shed her partner, who could not bear domesticity.
Pawel and Chiara are finally yet half-heartedly blessed by the Padrone, and a joyous wedding is planned in the rehabilitated villa.
Katherine realizes that her wishes were indeed fulfilled—there was a wedding and there will be a family, but neither would be for her; and neither were exactly in the traditional or formulaic mode.
Now I have to admit I enjoyed this little fantasy, despite this tongue-in-cheek review, so throw me in the Fellini fountain with Katherine until I sober up and dismiss this entertaining piece of subculture that leaves everyone a little better than they started.
Diane Lane is quite a beauty and as with Unfaithful and so many of her films, acts with deft skill and charm regardless of whether she is the femme fatale or fated to failure.
In sum, this movie is not an intellectual challenge, but it is fun and lighthearted.© 2003 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.
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