Movie Review
Under the Tuscan Sun
Tuscan Sun poster
By Stephen Lucas     Published September 14, 2003
US Release: September 26, 2003

Directed by: Audrey Wells
Starring: Diane Lane , Raoul Bova , Sandra Oh , Vincent Riotta

Running Time: 113 minutes
Domestic Box Office: $43,602,000
May not be the best of films to satisfy [Lane's] talent, but by no means squanders it
Whether it is the bays of San Francisco or on shores of Tuscany, there's one thing that's sure in this world, and that thing so often contemplated, theorized, and experienced is love.

People have their opposing views on what love is, what it means, and why we all need or do not need it in our lives. In actuality, it may be one of the biggest mysteries in life -- the existence of a "soul mate" or "true love" -- and like many other unanswerable questions or topics, writers of all kinds embellish themselves in it.
Some express being in love, others contemplate what went wrong, some wondering who Mr. or Mrs. Right is or how they can move on from a fallen relationship (among limitless other things that spawn from the topic). In the film, "Under the Tuscan Sun," set in the place hinted at in the title, Frances (Diane Lane) is one of those very writers -- a novelist -- questioning those very things I mentioned.

Recently divorced, Frances is treated to a "romantic tour of Tuscany" by her two best friends. Though she's initially reluctant, they quickly inform her that it is in fact a gay tour -- therefore, she wouldn't be pressured to hook up or flirt with anybody. Once arrived, she soon realizes how lost she is inside -- an "empty shell" without love. From there on with destiny as her guide, she starts to build a new path and to regroup the pieces of her life that have been lost.

Last year, Diane Lane earned an Oscar nomination for her astounding lead performance in "Unfaithful" work that was both powerful and had excellently accentuated her strengths as an actress. Her follow-up in "Under the Tuscan Sun" may not be quite as impressive or breathtaking, though very good. She's strikingly beautiful and seems to try and do the best she can with a somewhat shallow story and character to portray.

What could have been an interesting and provoking take on love -- Lane's character being a writer, I thought would lead to deeper thinking -- but instead, clich?s collide when it comes to Frances's love life with only a few spices thrown in for good measure.

The film is beautifully shot on location in Tuscany, and Lane is a flattering centerpiece of the film -- something of a foreign goddess -- but the fact is that her talent is minimized by lack of better material. Her character's heart is broken several times and then is joyous other times, and Lane transcends both emotions quite believably, but we're never given a reason to care for and nurture her character.

What the film essentially lacks is a swift dramatic pulse, one with which Lane can thrives upon. In order for us to really be there with Frances, we need a reason to do so. Actually, the divorce that starts the film off is awkwardly mild in nature and doesn't seem to affect her as much as it should. Throughout the film, though, it seems as though the loss becomes greater, and she in turn becomes more susceptible to lovelorn.

Having not ever being introduced to her husband gives us little desire to sympathize with Frances. We don't know how their relationship was, how they got along, or really anything to that extent. The rest of the film (there following her trip to Tuscany) tries to lead us to believe that because of her loss, she relies on symbolic signs (coincidences and so forth) to guide her along the way.

That's actually how she meets the next love of her life -- a tall native man whom seems suitable for our protagonist. I realize that people often associate love with it being "by chance" or that people "live in the moment" in order to fall in love, but "Under the Tuscan Sun" doesn't create the most believable of circumstances.

Perhaps one of my favorite "chick flicks" of all time is the John Cusack/Kate Beckinsale romantic comedy, "Serendipity," a title that means by chance. In that particular film, a man (Cusack) and women (Beckinsale) desperately rely on luck and destiny to guide them back to each other in New York City before each get married to the wrong person. Although the film could have ended up being tragically tacky, it instead set a steady, fun pace.

In "Tuscan Sun," Lane?s character at first is unsure of how to move on from the divorce she just went through, but then suddenly has a change of heart once arriving at her destination. A three hundred-year-old villa located in the country is for sale, and as her tour bus passes by it by, she then screams for the driver to stop, and gets off. The elderly women selling the house is about to sell the property to a young European couple right as Frances enters, and then steeply starts to increase the price.

That's what sets the tone for the rest of this whimsical movie; Lane's character continuously relies on intuition and chance to set her new path in life. This may be an attitude that people in similar situations may develop as a side effect of divorce, and also, being a writer, her artistic side may be kicking in as well.

That aside, though, I didn't wholly buy it. In addition to that, this new outlook on her life may have given her some sort of internal freedom ? a wise friend continues to advise her never to neglect her own childish innocence, but the effects don't extend far beyond Lane's wide smile or her entire performance.

As I mentioned, Frances is a writer (neglecting her latest novel, later titled Under the Tuscan Sun), and many writers tend to like to come up with opinions or small theories about things such as love. As she described her first impression of her foreign surroundings in a silky voiceover, I had (from there) expected more of that type of tight narration as if taken out of a book.

The narrative by Frances is then somewhat disappointing, sounding as if she were a normal, smart, yet love-confused person. Why make her character a writer when you don't submerge in plot points of depth? I assumed there'd be more dimension to her tale than that of a normal tourist, perhaps with a slight twist (or something!) but that expectation was never met.

Like I said before, though, Diane Lane is a tremendous actress; this is her movie, and she flourishes no matter what. Though beautiful and graceful throughout the duration, those qualities aren't a mask of her genuine talent. She's been in the business for a long time now, and she being the only big name in "Tuscan Sun" placed pressure on her to perform. She had starred alongside Richard Gere in "Unfaithful" and managed to steal the show from him by a long shot.

However, her success with this follow-up was questionable because of the film?s slight flimsiness. To be a lead actress, you need to have a distinct and strong presence on screen, which is exactly what she surely does have. "Under the Tuscan Sun" may not be the best of films to satisfy her talent, but by no means squanders it.

Having said all of this, know one thing that may change your mind -- if you're a woman. I'm reviewing this movie from a male's point of view, thus leading women to believe that I'm more critical of it than is necessary. But please know that I'm not bias in the case of any "chick flick," because if it's well made I can see it as being a good movie; and I also keep the interest of a film's key audience in mind. So when I say that "Under the Tuscan Sun" is a bit too light and whimsical for its own good, then I mean it. However, if I said it was a bad movie, I would in fact be lying.

Though flaws and clich?s lie "Under the Tuscan Sun," both extraordinary locales and the extraordinary actress leading the entire expedition make the trip to the theater like that of the gay tour Frances attends: no pressure or commitment is required whatsoever.
Stephen's Grade: C+
Stephen's Overall Grading: 23 graded movies
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  • Greg's review B+
    October 10, 2003    The kind of film that you want to give a big hug ? it is very inspirational and shows us that we shouldn't take life for granted. -- Greg Ward