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Under the Tuscan Sun (PG-13)
Touchstone Pictures
Official Site
Director: Audrey Wells
Producers: Tom Sternberg, Laura Fattori
Written by: Audrey Wells, Frances Mayes
Cast: Diane Lane, Raoul Bova, Sandra Oh, Vincent Riotta, Dan Bucatinsky, Lindsay Duncan

Rating: out of 5

From beginning to end, Under The Tuscan Sun is gorgeous. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the majority of the movie takes place in Italy, with sunlit waters, ancient architecture, and vast gardens. The story is a fictionalized version of Frances Mayes’ autobiographical book of the same name, and stars a likeable Diane Lane as Frances.

What fictionalized means is that the movie retains the idea of an American woman buying a house in Italy, but has drastically rewritten it to be more dramatic, more clichéd, and ultimately, less believable.

The real Frances is a creative writing professor in San Francisco, who first visited Italy soon after graduating college. She visited Italy several more times after that, renting different farmhouses to live in, before finally buying and renovating a villa in Tuscany named Bramasole.

In Audrey Wells’ script, Frances is a professor and book editor in San Francisco who undergoes a nasty divorce involving a cheating husband and ends up losing her house. Frances is forced to move to an apartment, which happens to be populated by a plethora other divorcees. Frances is depressed, and her surroundings are clearly not helping her situation. To the rescue is Frances’ pregnant friend Patti (Oh), who happens to have a ticket for a tour of Tuscany, but decides against traveling with a baby on the way. Frances accepts the ticket, and off she goes to try to reenergize her spirits. While on the tour, Frances sees an advertisement for Bramasole and buys the villa on a whim.

Once in Italy, she tries to create a new life by renovating her house, forming friendships with her neighbors and even finding romance with a handsome local (Bova). Sprinkled throughout are descriptive voiceovers by Frances that explains her experiences. She is a writer, after all.

What makes this movie feel contrived is the use of recurring themes and phrases. For example, there is a dry faucet in Bramasole that looks worthless at first, but seemingly representing Frances’ life, it begins to drip water (and prove its worth) as her life improves. Almost as bad is the use of repeated expressions. Poignant phrases are re-used later in the movie, explicitly reminding the audience how the story is connecting.

Also breaking the flow of the movie are several instances where it looks like the director decided to try out some camera tricks on us. There’s one scene where Frances and her friends are taking photographs and the camera freezes on each shot and switches to black and white before resuming in color.

But then the rest of the movie makes up for that, because it is all shot in bright hues and simply beautiful. For readers who enjoyed Mayes’ descriptions of her experience in Italy, watching Under The Tuscan Sun fulfills the visual aspects if not more so. Frances also serves to her guests plates and plates of delicious mouth-watering food, keeping true to the spirit of the book.

However, as this movie is only very loosely based on the source material, readers who enjoyed Mayes’ book should regard this as a completely different story.

—Kelly Hsu


hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

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