Under the Tuscan Sun

People sometimes make a fuss when a movie adaptation of a book veers from its source material. Well, if they do, they will certainly not enjoy Under the Tuscan Sun, based on the novel by Frances Mayes, about her own experiences buying a villa in Tuscany. It's too bad too, since writer/director Audrey Wells (Guinevere) transforms the popular novel into a wistful romantic comedy, superfluous in nearly every way but highly enjoyable. It's actually pretty difficult to make a good movie out of familiar characters and cliches, but Wells manages to do so, mainly because of the pervasive spirit of optimism. Yes, Frances (Diane Lane, Unfaithful, The Glass House) is newly divorced and depressed, but somehow, everybody, including herself, knows that things will be better.

For Lane, this is another great role. With some help from Wells' adaptation, Lane takes the Frances character and gives her a sense of depth that other actors could never achieve. Lane makes Frances seem real. She never feels one emotion or another, there is always a mixture, with feelings lurking just beneath the surface. Frances is longing for something better, and Lane convincingly portrays this sense of want. Frances' friend Patti (Sandra Oh, Full Frontal, Big Fat Liar) convinces her to go on a tour of Tuscany, and she reluctantly agrees. Once there, she falls in love with an old villa called Bramasole, and decides to buy it on the spot. If she cannot have the life she dreams for, she will work her way there, beginning with remodeling Bramasole. In other words, as the villa comes back to life, so does Frances. Think of Under the Tuscan Sun as Life as a House without some of the sappiness.

Once settled into her new life, Frances goes about fixing up Bramasole, and finds herself surrounded by loving friends and neighbors. Her real estate agent Martini (Vincent Riotta, Heaven, Captain Corelli's Mandolin) often checks in to see how she's doing. She hires some Polish workers to help with the renovation, and young Pawel (Pawel Szadja) falls in love with the young neighbor Chiara (Giulia Steigerwalt, The Last Kiss, Our Tropical Island), whose parents disapprove because he is not Italian. She falls in love with a handsome Italian man (Raoul Bova, The Window Opposite, Francesca and Nunziata). The one character that grates a tad is Frances' friend Katherine (Lindsay Duncan, Mansfield Park, The Phantom Menace). Katherine is a flamboyant expatriate who once worked with Fellini. She is now living life to the fullest in Tuscany; a free spirit that could be Frances in a few more years.

Even Patti shows up eventually, also looking for consolation. It seems like there are lots of personal problems floating around the film, but the film itself feels anything but sad. Watching Under the Tuscan Sun is like watching a travelogue. Italy's beautiful landscapes figure prominently, and only adds to the fantasy-like feel that the film sometimes achieves. It's obvious that the way the story plays out may not necessarily have its roots in reality, but it definitely is fun to watch. And chalk up another great role for Lane, who seems absolutely radiant when Frances is actually happy.

Haro Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 53 minutes, Rated PG-13 for sexual content and language.

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