Under the Tuscan Sun (2003)

Directed by Audrey Wells

I resisted seeing this movie for a while. It seemed too much of a girl movie. Generally, I resist seeing girl movies as much as I resist seeing boy movies. They often have just too much of a feminine or masculine sensibility.

Although if I had to choose, I’d probably pick girl movies over boy movies – I quickly get tired of car chases and things blowing up.

Be that as it may … A friend had liked Under the Tuscan Sun and I had come across a review of it that pointed out a few aspects of the movie that intrigued me.

So, now I’ve seen it.

Frances and Marcello (Diane Lane and Raoul Bova) in a romantic fantasy.

The verdict? It’s a good movie, though not great. And, yes, it is a girl movie. A ‘chick flick,’ as they say. But it’s also a bit more, which is why I liked it.

Under the Tuscan Sun is really a fantasy. It’s a modern fairy tale, or fable, and it is this aspect that I find appealing. I don’t know why, but I’ve always liked these types of movies.

With the exception of the main character, Frances Mayes (played by Diane Lane), the characters are fairly one-dimensional. They are caricatures, in a sense, more types than they are people, particularly the men.

But that’s sort of as it should be in this kind of movie. The film documents a hero’s journey, in this case an emotional one. It’s a kind of maturing process that occurs within Frances.

Frances (middle) and her friends, Florella (Anita Zagaria) and Patti (Sandra Oh).

The movie begins with Frances finding herself suddenly divorced and shutting down emotionally. As a number of characters tell her as the film progresses, she is “too sad,” and sad all the time.

Frustrated herself with where she is and her state, she impulsively accepts a ten-day trip to Tuscany. While there, on another impulse, she buys a villa she can barely afford. It is run down and needs quite a bit of work. Enlisting trades people in the area, Frances tackles the process of rebuilding the house.

The restoration mirrors the restoration she is also doing on herself.

There are a number of charming characters and intriguing incidents along the way. The movie is both warm and funny as it moves along and always with a very strong note of feminine sensibility, which actually comes as something of a relief given the number of somber, brow-furrowed male oriented films we see.

Of course, a bit more balance between the two would be nice, but that’s for another film.

Lindsay Duncan as the mysterious and exotic Katherine and Diane Lane as Frances.

Another element of the movie that definitely recommends it is the look.

This is an absolutely lovely movie to look at. The cinematography is exceptional as it captures a warm and vibrant Tuscany with gorgeous landscapes and backdrops.

Even the run down villa is beautiful to see. This is one of the best shot movies in a while.

Yes, the movie is romantic and sentimental but this is appropriate for the kind of movie it is and what it is trying to achieve.

As a fable, it falls into the same category as a film like Chocolat.

But if you can put aside the fashionable and obligatory cynicism that often accompanies cinema enthusiasts, you’ll probably enjoy this movie.

Irrelevant asides:

  • I love director Audrey Wells’ name. It sounds like a town in Alberta or Texas. (“Any day now, I swear, I’m a’ gonna be back home in Audrey Wells.”)
  • Diane Lane, who gives a marvelous performance, is becoming an expert in post-coital reactions. As with her recent role in Unfaithful, one of her best scenes comes after having had sex.

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