Dir: Audrey Wells. US 2003. 120 minutes
A genial, if undemanding, romantic comedy/drama about a divorced woman learning to embrace life again, Under The Tuscan Sun owes a great deal of its appeal to its ingratiating star, Diane Lane. The actress has an inherent likableness that also worked for her in the romantic thriller Unfaithful. While the new film isn't likely to post the same numbers as that hot and heavy drama -- for one thing, Tuscan Sun is geared more to women than men - it should generate enough business when it opens in the US on Sept 26 to be considered a modest hit.
Lane plays novelist and college professor Frances Mayes, a happily married woman whose world falls apart when she discovers that her husband is having an affair and wants a divorce. With a ticket from her best friend Patti (Oh) and Patti's domestic partner, Frances embarks on a ten-day tour of Italy. Writer/director Wells keeps this from feeling predictable or cliched by making the touring company one that caters to gays and lesbians. Frances is the only straight person there.
In Tuscany Frances spies a beautiful but rather dilapidated 300-year old villa and impulsively buys it. Worried that she has bitten off more than she can chew but determined to face some of her fears, she sets out to renovate the place, hiring an Italian builder and his three Polish workers. She also befriends Katherine (Duncan), an eccentric English woman in her 50's who is still living life to the fullest and who encourages Frances to do the same.
After a chance encounter with a sexy Italian man a few years her junior, Frances decides to take Katherine's advice, opening herself up to the risk of being hurt again. As she ventures forward, she experiences both happiness and sadness -- and realizes that life is filled with the most unpredictable events.
A screenwriter making her second film as a director (Guinevere was her first), Wells has a good ear for dialogue and Lane does a wonderful job of conveying her words in an off-hand, understated manner that feels completely real. She reveals a wonderful combination of feeling and intelligence, whether wryly observing her own actions in voice-over, trying to keep from breaking down or giving in to an infectious exuberance when she realizes that life isn't over for her.
One particularly nice touch is how Frances really seems to be gaining insight as she struggles forward, suggesting that knowledge and perspective really can be gained from both age and, especially, experience. Despite the movie's fairy tale components - Frances is sophisticated, modest, successful and gorgeous - in Lane's hands, Frances never feels less than real.
Production cos: Timnick Films Production, Blue Gardenia Production
US dist: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution
Intl dist: Buena Vista International
Exec prod: Laura Fattori, Sandy Kroopf, Mark Gill
Prod: Tom Sternberg, Audrey Wells
Scr: Audrey Wells, based on the book Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes
Cinematography: Geoffrey Simpson
Prod des: Stephen McCabe
Ed: Andrew Marcus, Arthur Coburn
Music: Christophe Beck
Main cast: Diane Lane, Sandra Oh, Lindsay Duncan, Vincent Riotta, Raoul Bova