Eric D. Snider

Under the Tuscan Sun

The star of "Under the Tuscan Sun" is the breathtaking Italian scenery. Photographed by respected cinematographer Geoffrey Simpson ("Oscar and Lucinda," "Shine"), the colorful vistas and countrysides are truly gorgeous to behold.

I am somewhat less enthusiastic about the rest of the film, as it seems mired in chick-flick simplicity and what I like to call checklist storytelling. Problems great and small are established, and then they are conquered one by one, in a neat, orderly fashion. The old man who won't wave back to the protagonist when she greets him each morning will surely do so by film's end; the spigot that seems incapable of producing water will gush forth mightily; and all the things our heroine hoped and dreamed for herself and her life in Italy will come to pass, all there under the dazzling Tuscan sun.

Our heroine is Frances Mayes (Diane Lane), a San Francisco writer overwhelmed by her recent divorce and unable to determine what to do next. Her friends give her a 10-tour of Tuscany as a get-away-from-it-all gift, and while on the trip, she impulsively buys an old house called Bramasole. The kindly real estate agent, Martini (Vincenzo Ricotta), helps her find a hard-working crew of Polish immigrants to assist in fixing up the place, and she goes about establishing a life for herself in a country that truly celebrates life.

Directed by Audrey Wells and adapted (and fictionalized) by her from the real Frances Mayes' memoirs, the film wisely realizes its second-best attribute is Diane Lane, an actress of incomparable charm and likability. Her version of the character is strong but vulnerable, devastated by the divorce and the fear that she will not find love again.

The film wavers, unwisely, on the issue of whether she needs a man to feel fulfilled. For a while, the point seems to be that she can be self-sufficient -- a rather unusual and laudable philosophy for a chick flick -- but events near the end of the film belie that notion and return to far more familiar, romantic territory.

It is also true that charm can only take you so far. Lane's lovely performance aside, the film dallies, taking far too long to get where it's going, and where it's going isn't all that interesting anyway. If it were a half-hour shorter -- and thus better-focused, story-wise -- I would recommend it. As it stands, I have some beautiful mental snapshots of the scenery and the locals, but I can't imagine taking the trip again.

Grade: C+

Rated PG-13, some mild profanity and one F-word, a little sexuality, some partial nudity

1 hr., 50 min.

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