While I realize how bad it probably is to write a review and start it out with a quote from another reviewer, I really just can’t help it. "Under the Tuscan Sun" is an alluring example of yuppie porn, seducing audiences with a shapely little villa in Italy.” This is from Ebert and while he goes on with lots of other wonderful lines I’m going to show some restraint and keep it at that. But it certainly does sum it up in a remarkable way.
Throughout this film, what struck me the most was how many characters and how many events seemed to have no real importance other than setting the mood and furthering our understanding or connection to the main character. In the end they really aren’t there for too much else. The shapely villa and all of the seductive surroundings tug at your emotions, pulling you into the world, but really it is there to help pull you into the character. Played by Diane Lane, Frances is left by her husband in circumstances even more horrible than usual, and she’s left with her depression and her writing. Neither are doing her much good as she moves into a short term apartment full of wacky characters to show you just how far she has fallen. Doctors for drugs, lawyers for legal divorce advice, her as the writer for the suicide notes, and anything else you could need in a place as horrible as that.
Her attempts at writing do her no good and her good friend Patti, one of my favorite random characters in the film, sends her off on a nice little trip with a gay tour group so that she doesn’t have to worry about getting hit on all the time. Their idea and general wording, not mine… She wanders around making sure we get lots of nice pretty shots of the countryside before suddenly buying a nice villa in the beautiful Tuscan countryside. What else do you do when you’re depressed and can’t write? She works on fixing it up, hoping that along the way she’ll find love and happiness like she’s wanted. Things don’t always go quite the way she wanted but you’ll have to see it to find out.
While much of the story and the ploy devices seemed insanely contrived I still managed to enjoy this movie more than most I’ve seen this year. Diane Lane made me care and, along with everybody else, managed to keep me amused and interested as well. I’m sure the story details could have made a bit more sense and seemed a bit more real but I’m not sure that would have made things better. Part of the simple enjoyment would have been lost and the film would have lost some of its true focus, namely Frances Mayes.
All in all, I can see how a lot of people might not enjoy this film and how the screaming voices can call it a rote chick flick (though a slightly different kind) but in the end I think they did what they set out to do and did it wonderfully. With some of the lulls in theaters this one might be worth checking out though the number of theaters showing it is dropping fast. It’s definitely worth tracking down on DVD eventually though… For Diane Lane if nothing else…
Katherine: It's a nice little villa. Are you going to buy it?
Frances: The way my life is currently going, that would be a terrible idea.
Katherine: Terrible idea... Don't you just love those?