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Under the Tuscan Sun
2003 - PG-13 - 113 Mins.
Director: Audrey Wells
Producer: Audrey Wells, Laura Fattori, Tom Sternberg
Written By: Audrey Wells, Frances Mayes
Starring: Diane Lane, Raoul Bova, Sandra Oh, Lindsay Duncan, Dan Bucatinsky
Review by: Harrison Cheung
   
September must be the life-affirming season for movies. After such a buoyant family movie like SECONDHAND LIONS, we followed up with UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN, which stars Diane Lane and Canadian comedian, Sandra Oh, best known in the U.S. for the ARLI$$ TV series. UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN is no doubt an Oprah-approved movie that tells women - straight or gay, that they can deal with a break-up. Make this a date movie or a much-needed "life can be OK" movie.

Diane Lane continues her career resurgence which began after her own divorce from French actor, Christopher Lambert and hit a milestone with her first Oscar nomination last year for UNFAITHFUL. Lane stars as Francesa, a recently divorced woman from San Francisco who goes to Tuscany on a gay bus tour and ends up buying a decrepit 300 year old villa in need of repairs. She soon has a number of colorful men fixing her house. She flirts with the local real estate agent and has a passionate affair with, as she put it, a descendant from a Roman god.

Sounds like an episode of WILL & GRACE? Fortunately, this film's humor, as is its sentimentality, is lightly sugared. We have here either Nora Ephron-lite or an actually good dramedy about coping with lost love. Yes, there's the blatant LIFE IS A HOUSE analogy and her neighborhood Italians have wonderful cliched words of wisdom, but overall, it works and works well thanks to Diane Lane's wonderful performance that ripples from joy to devastation and back again so effortlessly, and writer/director Audrey Wells' light touch that moves the movie along quickly without drowning in syrup.

Sandra Oh is disappointingly underused here as the gay, pregnant friend who ends up moving in with Francesa. Oh, who showed off some great comic chops from her own Canadian film career (DOUBLE HAPPINESS) as well as on ARLI$$, is relegated to the ocassional quip. And thanks to the language barrier, the non-English characters are under-written - either wizen wise old men or women, or incredibly sexy. Italians, apparently, only have 2 modes.

As the villa is renovated, so is Francesa's life. It's as if the gorgeous sun-drenched scenery is there only for therapy. We watch her go from mourning her marriage to wearing brighter and richer colors as she rebuilds a life as an American newcomer in Italy. Wells resists making UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN an all out comedy - there are some easy targets here - the house renovations, the curious Italians, the eccentric construction crew - but the movie is smartly focused on Francesa. All the funny bits are highlighted in the trailer.

In the recent Katherine Hepburn biography, she was quoted as saying that she detested Meryl Streep's acting. Click-click-click, she pointed to her forehead, indicating that one could see Streep's mind at work. By comparison, Lane is wonderfully fluid and effortless. When she hits those roadbumps, there are real emotions at work here -not theatrical, not bigger than life, but real, human scale emotions that make UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN fascinating to watch. Lane also has a superb co-star - the Tuscan landscape itself. While you're oohing and ahhing the landscape, it's impossible not to feel romantic and to expect that Lane's Francesca will find the answers to her prayers.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental.
  3.5 out of 5 stars

 
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