Silver Chips Online

Under the Tuscan Sun: Too much fluff, not enough substance

October 3, 2003
Under the Tuscan Sun, a romantic drama set in the Italian countryside, strives to be profound but is more preoccupied with packing in hackneyed clichés that leave the multi-faceted plot flat and overly sentimental. The plot carried by numerous characters, all of who have vague roles in the film and fail to instill any sort of moral or message in the viewer's mind.

The movie, based on a memoir, stars Diane Lane as narrator Frances Mayes, a California book critic. Frances' life takes a completely unexpected turn when she realizes that her husband is having an affair. Distressed and despondent, the 35-year old divorcee accepts a friend's last minute gift: a ticket to a ten-day, relaxing “Gay and Away" bus tour of Italy. During her trip she spontaneously purchases Bramasole, an 18th century decrepit Tuscany villa, in hopes of restarting her life. Frances' soon becomes absorbed with finding the man of her dreams and creating inklings of romance in everyone she meets.

The 1 hour 53 minute movie begins by featuring Frances as a successful California businesswoman who devolves into a disheveled wreck after loosing her house and dignity to her unfaithful ex-husband. Lane’s acting lacks the depth needed to fully bring out her character's depression. In fact, the large bags under her eyes are the main indication of her dejection. As a result of financial complications, Frances ends up giving her house to her husband and moving into a run-down temporary apartment where, as the landlord jokes, she can make use of her writing by helping “others write their suicide notes."

Patti (Sandra Oh), Frances' lesbian friend, is determined to help Frances overcome her depression. She hands Frances a ticket to romantic Italy. While Frances does not accept at first, she soon becomes fed up with her pathetic state and packs a suitcase and heads out to join the resplendent gay bus group. Once arriving in Italy, she marvels at the scenery and meets an eccentric, tall and blond woman (played by Lindsay Duncan) dressed in an extravagant velvet outfit who later revealed as an ex-movie star. The mysterious woman dares Frances to buy a villa in Tuscany. Frances, though knowing that the purchase would be a “terrible idea," becomes enraptured in the idea and decides to buy a rusting home in the countryside with the little money she has.

Frances' next challenge is to arrange a contractor to fix her house that is on the verge of crumbling. She interviews a range of men from one who is middle-aged and insinuates sexual actions to a red-faced contractor who babbles on and on in Italian. Finally, she chooses a “team of experts" that consists of one polish boy (played by Pawel Szajda) and two older polish men. One of the first words she learns is “golamesh," a Polish curse word, when her living room wall falls to the ground. Slowly but surely, the group works together to rebuild an ancient home.
At this point, the movie begins to take a downward turn. Director Audrey Wells scatters tidbits of insignificant advice through her under-developed characters and speckles shallow metaphors including ladybugs (signifying the search for love) and a broken faucet (resembling hope). Frances seeks advice from several people, including her ex-movie star friend who tells her “to live spherically—in many directions." Not only are these lines trite, they do not relate to Frances' life at all.

Hollywood arrives in full force when Frances meets a masculine café owner named Marcello (played by Raoul Boval) who invites her to the sea for a day. At the beach, he stares into Frances' eyes and says how he wishes to swim in them. After this nauseating statement, Frances agrees to sleep with him.

The love affair between Frances and Marcello uncovers a more uplifted and confident side to Frances. Her life begins to come together, and the viewers start to believe that Frances has learned a few lessons about love. Well, the viewers are sadly mistaken. Frances helps wed the young polish boy to a girl with whom he can barely communicate and whose parents do not approve of the teenage marriage. This fragment of the movie negates any meaning out of Frances' past romantic experiences.

While the movie's never-ending symbols are predictable and shallow, Under the Tuscan Sun has brief, enrapturing moments that evoke sympathy for Frances as her loneliness torments her. Frances' friendship with Patti is truly genuine, and when Patti reveals dreadful news the moment grips the audience as well as Frances. The movie also smoothly and convincingly shows a group of Italian friends who come to resemble a family. The surrounding scenery of fields with blooming red flowers and turquoise beaches is also amazing and may as well make the movie worth seeing.

Unfortunately, the movie's few substantial plots are buried deep within extraneous melodramas. Under the Tuscan Sun may not be worth a trip to the movie theaters, but it could deserve a rental for a rainy afternoon when Italy's scenery may at least lift your spirits.