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Under The Tuscan Sun (12A)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: One

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Tuscany 101. Deleted scenes; Audio commentary; Easter egg.

GIVEN the right material, Diane Lane can be quite an incendiary actress (Rolling Stone once described her as ‘a force of nature’), but even she struggles to pull Under The Tuscan Sun out of the furnace.

Based on the best-seller by Frances Mayes, which sold two million copies in the US and spent 126 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List, this is the type of film which gives chick flicks a bad name, thanks to a tedious, often cringe-worthy script, and a lazy tendency to reduce every character to some sort of caricature.

Lane plays freshly-divorced San Francisco writer, Frances Mayes, who impulsively buys a rundown villa in deepest Tuscany in a desperate bid to pick up the pieces of her shattered life.

Desperate, lonely and nervous of failure, she slowly begins to build a new existence for herself, by rediscovering the pleasures of laughter, friendship and romance, while getting to grips with the pace and customs of Italian life.

But her path to happiness doesn’t always take the expected route and there is plenty of heartbreak along the way, thanks in no small part to the amorous and flirty Italians surrounding her.

Although based on Mayes’ best-seller, which, in itself, took the form of the writers’ own memoirs, Under The Tuscan Sun has changed certain aspects of the story for ‘dramatic effect’, especially as the novel itself contained none itself, by the author’s own admission.

Sadly, the ploy backfires, for many of the contrived scenarios which unfold play out in such a cliched fashion that you have to wonder whether writer-director, Audrey Wells, succumbed to a little sun-stroke herself.

The film certainly looks great, containing plenty of breathtaking views of Tuscany and the Neopolitan Riviera (most notably, Positano), as well as numerous insights into Italian life and traditions, but it is ultimately ill-served by the lame characterisation and poor pacing.

Lane does a credible job of portraying a woman who is struggling to cope with the devastation caused by the revelation that her husband has been having an affair with a younger woman, neatly mixing the inevitable vulnerability this brings, with a feisty determination to succeed.

But she is ill-served by a cliché ridden script, which all-too frequently reduces many of the male characters to laughing stocks, while serving to nullify the dramatic effect of proceedings.

This is a supposedly inspiring movie which lacks the feel-good factor, and which comes packed with bad lines such as ‘you have beautiful eyes, Francesca, I wish I could swim inside them’, or, worse still, ‘I am going to make love all over you’, before a supposedly erotic slice of sexual gratification.

The sight of Lane writhing around on a bed, alone, while praising herself for ‘still having it’ is likely to vex even the most ardent fans of the actress, while attempts to play up the sexual and physical insecurity she is supposed to be feeling are negated by the director’s decision to have virtually every young male in Italy fawning over her at some point.

Of the support players, very few make any sort of impact against the caricatures they are portraying, with Sandra Oh’s pregnant lesbian particularly ineffective, along with Lindsay Duncan’s Fellini-fixated temptress.

The men fare little better, with only Vincent Riotta, as Signor Martini, providing an appealing confidante, despite limited material. The remainder are a mostly embarrassing bunch, not worthy of much appreciation, or, as it turns out, Lane’s affection, all of which makes Under The Tuscan Sun a film which is curiously difficult to fall in love with.

 

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