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Under the Tuscan Sun

Call it My Big Fat Italian Fling! Diane Lane once again tumbles into bed with a hunky

European--only this time she's a divorcee searching for true love in this romantic comedy

set in scenic Tuscany.


In Unfaithful, Diane Lane cheated on Richard Gere with French stud Olivier Martinez.

Now Lane's the victim of an extramarital affair in this heavily fictionalized and

romanticized rendering of writer Frances Mayes' 1996 memoir of her Tuscany travels.

Novelist and book critic Frances Mayes (Lane) is so consumed with her work that she's

completely oblivious to her husband's extramarital dalliances. She only finds out when

an aspiring writer breaks the bad news to her as revenge for panning his novel. The

subsequent divorce hits Frances so hard that her pregnant gay pal Patti (Sandra Oh)

packs off her to Italy for a tour of Tuscany. Blinded by the region's beauty, Frances makes

a spontaneous decision to buy a villa in the town of Cortona. It's a good thing Frances

loves terrible ideas. The villa is a money pit, so she hires a ragtag bunch of builder to

knock the place back into shape. But as the villa regains its incandescence, Frances

realizes that she has bought a huge home for a life she does not have. She has no

family, her friends are back home in San Francisco, and her love life is nonexistent.

She's fond of realtor Signor Martini (Vincent Riotta), but he's very married and very

faithful. Then, while running an errand in Rome, she bumps into handsome antiques

dealer Marcello (Raoul Bova). He seems like a smooth operator at first, but his intentions

turn out to be purely honorable. Frances is so beguiled that she drags Marcello into bed.

Can one night of passion produce a lifetime of love? That's the challenge Frances strives

to meet. But Under the Tuscan Sun isn't concerned with defining a woman solely by her

martial status. Writer/director Audrey Wells hammers homes the message that good

can come out of the pain and suffering caused by the end of a marriage. There's nothing

particularly radical about this notion, so Wells instead sets out to spur the brokenhearted

into reclaiming their lives. With wit, sensitivity but little imagination, Wells shows that

Tuscany isn't so much a place but a state of mind achievable through risk and



Unfaithful's triumph as a treatise on adultery hinged solely on Diane Lane's willingness

to challenge herself beyond the point of her physical and emotional limits. She was

surprisingly brave and truthful in an otherwise vacant and phony look at a marriage

coming apart at the seams. And Lane was rewarded with a deserved Oscar nomination.

As a followup to Unfaithful, Under the Tuscan Sun initially covers similar ground. In both

films, she convincingly portrays smart, attractive women inexplicably neglected by their

husbands. Unlike Unfaithful, in which Lane embarks on an affair that turns deadly, Under the Tuscan Sun forces her to look for love in the arms of another man. Dramatically, Lane doesn't face the same demands made of her by the sexually explicit Unfaithful. But it does give her the rare opportunity to try her hand at the kind of romantic charmers that Julia Roberts and Sandra Bullock monopolize. Lane struggles at first to set the

appropriate comic tone, but that's more to do with the gloomy facade and demeanor of

the film's opening moments. Once Frances touches down in Italy, Lane lightens up and

glows with warmth and charm befitting of her lush surroundings. Frances may spend a

little too much moping, but Lane makes her a sympathetic soul with love and

compassion to burn. The men in Frances' life are all attractive and charismatic. Raoul

Bova makes Marcello honest and caring, but he disappears too often and for too long

after his initial tryst with France to make a genuine love connection with Lane. Besides,

we long for Frances to end up with in the arms of the older and gentlemanly Vincent

Riotta. But Riotta's Signor Martini is happily married, and Frances is not a home wrecker. Oddly, the childless Frances enjoys greater success as a mother figure than an object of

desire. She takes under her wing star-crossed lovers Pawel and Chiara, a penniless

Polish laborer and the daughter of an Italian olive grower, played with youthful

exuberance by Pawel Szadja and Giulia Steigerwalt. She also offers opens her home to

gal pal Patti, who's pregnant and suddenly single. Sandra Oh knows that the gay best

friend is a stale stereotype that exists solely as a sounding board for our heroine. So she

works hard to make Patti a funny and perceptive source of comfort, and one who makes

you feel for her own sets of problems and priorities.


It all comes down to location, location, location for director Audrey Wells. She employs

both San Francisco and Tuscany as metaphors for Frances' life during and after divorce.

The Bay City is grim, confining and devoid of hope. But the clouds of depression part the

moment Frances leaves her broken heart in San Francisco. Tuscany is sunny, inviting

and filled with endless possibilities. There are the occasional storms to weather--electrical and emotional--but that comes with the territory. For the most part, all Wells has

to do is plop her cameras beside a lake or on a hill and Tuscany's warmth and passion

shines strong and bright. This goes a long way to ensuring her second directorial effort is

a more radiant and satisfying affair than her first, the solemn and occasionally creepy

May-to-December romance Guinevere. But Under the Tuscan Sun isn't just preoccupied

with picture-postcard locales. Much humor comes out of Frances' admirable attempt to

knock her old house into shape. Taps don't work. Warm water bubbles out of the toilet.

Windows fly open the moment a gust kicks up. Yet there's never any doubt that the more

work Frances puts into fixing her house, the likelier she's going to repair her life. But

Wells makes it too obvious that Frances isn't going to be holed up in the villa by herself

for too long. You just know Patti will arrive in Tuscany the second Frances falls for

Marcello and inadvertently complicate matters of the heart. And that Patti's water will

break before Frances' water pipe woes are finally resolved. Still, these trials and

tribulations allow Frances to credibly emerge from her divorce-induced funk and to move

forward. You can't help but cheer for Frances when she dances with joy after sleeping

with Marcello. Does this mean Frances has found the man of her dreams? That would be

telling. And it almost seems besides the point. Wells is more interested in demonstrating

that a woman doesn't need a man by her side to be truly happy. Not that Wells wants

Frances to live the rest of her days alone. True love takes time to cultivate, no regardless

of whether you're in Tuscany or San Francisco.

Bottom Line

What is it about Diane Lane and the men who foolishly take her for granted? No matter,

because it's starting to bring out the best in her. So book a trip to Italy and enjoy how

Frances got her groove back.