Main cast: Diane Lane (Frances), Sandra Oh (Patti), Lindsay Duncan (Katherine), Raoul Bova (Marcello), Vincent Riotta (Martini), Kate Walsh (Grace), and David Sutcliffe (Ed)
Director: Audrey Wells
Watching Under the Tuscan Sun is like visiting Tuscany on a retirement-home tourist package. It doesn’t take long before I start wishing that I can break away from the crowd and do some of my own exploring of Tuscany. The cinematography is beautiful, two of the main actresses are wonderful, but Audrey Wells, who wrote the script as well as directed, lacks the imagination to make this movie work.
Frances Mayes is our heroine. Recently divorced, she is living in what seems like a colony for depressed divorcées that can’t move on. Her concerned friend Patti has to postpone her trip to Tuscany with her lover to prepare for her pregnancy, so she persuades Frances to go in her stead. Frances ends up buying a house in Tuscany and from thereon, this movie becomes one of those eye-rolling “You go, girlfriend!” movie that deals superficially with love, moving on, and self-discovery. Never mind that I wonder how Frances can afford a house in Tuscany when she doesn’t even seem to have a full-time job. All I know is that I scream in horror the moment Raoul Bova’s character arrives on screen and demonstrates that sometimes, Pepé Le Pew is best left a cartoon character and nothing more.
While Tuscany is gorgeous, the stereotypes here aren’t. From unsubtle anvils and coincidences to crazy old women letting Frances buy the house because a bird uses her head as a toilet (it’s a good sign according to these funny Italians!) to Raoul Bova’s Pepé Le Pew to old men sending flowers to friendly Italians inviting Frances to dinner – ugh, ugh, ugh. Bova’s Marcello is a particularly annoying character, not only because he’s such a stereotype, but also because his lines make me cringe. When Frances asks him to sleep with her, he just has to say, “You honor me with your offer, I will make love all over you.” Ugh. If I ever happen to want a no-strings-attached fling in Tuscany, I’d take someone who will know when to shut up and do that ram-me-up-Scotty thing instead of going on and on so insincerely like Marcello. Nothing like a man babbling in hopelessly trite greeting card nonsense when one is trying to lay back and enjoy the ride to spoil the whole mood. Then again, Mr Bova, who’s a gorgeous man, is also a hopelessly wooden actor, and it may be a blessing in disguise that Marcello hasn’t much to do here other than to be a Pepé Le Pew type.
The story soon loses focus of what it wants to do with Frances, so Frances ends up becoming a matchmaker, confidante, and more. Along the way, she discovers very important lessons like, er, hmm, I’ll get back to you on that. Other than Italians being hopelessly stereotypical, I don’t know what Frances learns at the end of the day. Except that maybe sometimes you get lucky and you get to end up with a guy that looks like that very hot David Sutcliffe, who surely combines the charm of young John Ritter with pure adorable geek factor hotness, I guess. Now that’s one guy that, with a right hair cut, can show me around Tuscany anytime. How sad is it that I am more excited about seeing him in that surprisingly sexy gray T-shirt in the last ten minutes of the show than the entire show combined?
Tuscany. It’s a beautiful place and this is a beautiful movie. But the movie’s reliance on predictable stereotypes and a meandering script filled with superficial “Very Sensitive Author Pondering over Life” drama cripple itself. Under The Tuscan Sun boasts some fine performance from Diane Lane and a worthy supporting performance by Sandra Oh as the best friend, but everything else about it is greeting card schmaltz.