Poet and writer Frances Mayes became a household name when in 1996 she
published "Under the Tuscan Sun", a book where she detailed how she and
her new lover bought and renovated an abandoned villa in Tuscany,
Italy. With her stylish prose, she made the book something more than a
mere diary of the renovation and turned into a captivating chronicle of
her trips through Italy and her familiarization with the country's rich
culture. The book's detailed account of Mayes' trips attracted director
Audrey Wells, who used the book's story of the renovation of an Italian
villa as a basis for this charming romantic comedy set in Tuscany and
starring Diane Lane.
Frances (Diane Lane) is a writer in her mid-30s currently suffering
writer's block, but this is the lesser of her problems, as her husband
suddenly decides to divorce her and as a result of legal issues, he
keeps their house. Without a place to call home, Frances enters a state
of depression, but her friend Patti (Sandra Oh) has a solution. Since
Patti (who is a lesbian) has become pregnant, she and her partner offer
Frances their tickets to Italy and convince her to take a holiday.
While traveling through Tuscanny with the tour, Frances finds an
abandoned villa for sale, and impulsively (and thanks to a series of
consequences), she decides to buy it. "Under the Tuscan Sun" details
France's efforts to renovate the villa and her life at the same time,
as well as her encounters with many interesting characters from the
beautiful Italian region.
Well, it is safe to point out that other than the tale of the
renovation of an old house, Audrey Well's adaptation of the story has
little to no resemblance to the book's plot. However, the way Wells
mixes Mayes' Italian adventure with her character's own tribulations is
almost perfect. True, the movie's plot is a bit typical and filled with
some of the most common clichés in the romantic comedy genre, but it
also offers some really nice (and unexpected) twists to the formula.
While not exactly the detailed travelogue that Mayes' book is, this
version of "Under the Tuscan Sun" really captures the magic of the
Italian region and accurately shows off bits of the country's culture
despite the funny use of classic stereotypes.
Director Audrey Wells takes a straight forward approach to her story,
but wisely, takes full advantage of the location's awesome landscapes
and the enormous talent of cinematographer Geoffrey Simpson. Together,
Simpson and Wells create beautiful vistas of Italy's famous countryside
that often mimic in a cleverly fashion some very well-known paintings
of the same locations. The film's cinematography is definitely the
movie's main asset, but it's not the only good thing in the film. While
in terms of style Wells follows the romantic comedy formula somewhat to
the letter, the movie is filled with a very human touch that most
movies of this genre lack.
Diane Lane is simply perfect as the movie's main character, as while
the role may be a bit typical, she truly added her talents to the part
and made Frances a very real and likable woman. Sandra Oh is good as
Frances' best friend Patti, although really less convincing than Lane.
Vincent Riotta is the film's highlight, as the helpful Mr. Martini who
also gives two or three lessons to the stranger in a strange land.
Lindsay Duncan appears as the strange Katherine, and plays an
over-the-top character with dignity and charm. Overall the rest of the
cast was very good, with everyone being perfect to the part although
nothing really special. By the way, watch out for a small appearance of
legendary director Mario Monicelli in a small role.
It's impossible to compare the film to the book as they are both very
different beasts, with very little in common; so fans of the book won't
find a faithful adaptation despite the gorgeous images of Italy. As a
film, "Under the Tuscan Sun" is a very effective melodrama, as while
it's certainly sappy and silly at times, it offers a breath of fresh
air when compared to other similar films. True, it's story may not be
the most original one, but the way it's executed it's strangely
charming, as if the beautiful cinematography and witty script were able
to cast a magic spell on the viewers and simply captivate with their
It's easy to dismiss "Under the Tuscan Sun" as another silly romantic
comedy filled with typical clichés and sappy situations; but while
those descriptions often prove true to this film, there is something
else, something more that this movie offers that makes it special, and
a truly different experience to those used to watch the same plots in
melodramas over and over. "Under the Tuscan Sun" may not be true to its
source book, but it uses it cleverly to tells a really charming story.