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,
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.