Under the Tuscan Sun review by Mike Long

I can only imagine that in Hollywood, deals are made everyday to buy the rights to a novel, if not dozens of them. Many of these books are fiction, but some are based on true stories and made into movies. But, what if you had a non-fiction book where nothing really happened? Then what? The only choice would be to create a fictionalized account of an event which actually took place. The resulting conundrum would be something like Under the Tuscan Sun.

Diane Lane stars in Under the Tuscan Sun as Frances Mayes (which is also the name of the real-life author of the book). As the film opens, Frances goes through a humiliating divorce and loses her houses. When her friends Patti & Grace (Sandra Oh & Kate Walsh) can't go on their trip to Tuscan (due to Patti's pregnancy), they give the tickets to Frances, who reluctantly agrees to go. Once Frances arrives in Italy, she is overtaken by the beauty of Tuscany and impulsively buys a rundown villa. She must now begin not only rebuilding the 300-year old house, but her life as well. Along the way, she will meet the many colorful characters who inhabit the village and surrounding areas.

If you've seen the trailer for Under the Tuscan Sun, but haven't seen the film itself, the following statement is going to sound strange: This is an odd movie. Obviously, the main premise in the movie deals with Frances getting divorced, going to Italy, and embarking on the adventure of renovating a house. You don't need to be an English major to understand that the rebuilding of the house reflects Frances personal recovery from her past tragedies. Frances meets an eccentric British woman (Lindsay Duncan) who lives nearby, interacts with her neighbors, and attempts to find a lover. But, besides that, nothing really happens. Sure, there are some minor twists in the story, but we never really get a true plot or driving narrative. No, I wasn't expecting non-stop action or suspense, but I did expect something. Once again, the film is based on the real-life Frances Mayes' memoirs, which was simply her account of fixing this house in Tuscany. Writer/director Audrey Wells has made many changes to Mayes' life in order to fictionalize the film and spice things up a bit, but it wasn't nearly enough. For example, at one point, Frances has a minor breakdown. Although we know why she's upset, the whole scene feels forced. And don't get me started on the film's plot-holes (ie: where does she get her money?) ***SPOILER ALERT***: The film's biggest mistake comes at the end. Just when the movie had us convinced that it was a feminist piece about female independence, things suddenly turn in the other direction. ***END SPOILER ALERT***.

The one true redeeming features in Under the Tuscan Sun is the Italian scenery. It's my understanding that reading the novel makes one envy Mayes' adventure, and seeing the film will make most viewers long for a journey of their own to Tuscany. Wells and cinematographer Geoffrey Simpson have done a fantastic job in capturing the beauty of this land by filming in Florence, Rome, Positano, and Cortona. The scenes with the houses lining the cliff-side are truly amazing. The beautiful settings help to somewhat relieve the duldrums of the story. Under the Tuscan Sun may seem like a "chick flick", but it doesn't really fit the mold, as the both sexes may find the story a bit contrite and unfocused. Yet, Diane Lane is likable enough in the lead role and the travelogue-esque photography will be appealing to many.

Under the Tuscan Sun relocates onto DVD courtesy of Touchstone Home Entertainment. The film is being released on DVD in two separate versions -- widescreen or full-frame. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The picture is very sharp and clear, showing only the slightest bit of grain at times. The picturesque Italian landscapes look fantastic here and the picture has an amazing amount of depth. The colors look great and natural. There is some noticeable edge enhancement on the image and a few black spots, but otherwise the image is fine. The DVD's Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is surprisingly robust and active. The thunderstorm scene sounds great, and merits demo-disc status with its display of surround sound and subwoofer effects. The dialogue is always sharp and clear and the stereo mix is constantly in play.

Given the fact that this film performed fairly well at the box office, it's surprising that there aren't more extras on the DVD. We start with an audio commentary from writer/director Audrey Wells. Wells speaks at length throughout the commentary, as she touches on how/why the entire film was shot in Italy and what changes were made from the real-life story. "Tuscany 101" is a 9-minute "making of" featurette which contains minimal behind-the-scenes footage and consists mostly of comments from Lane, Wells, and author Mayes. The extras are rounded out with three deleted scenes.

4 out of 10 Jackasses

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