UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN
Review by Ed Nguyen
Stars: Diane Lane, Sandra Oh, Lindsay Duncan, Raoul
Director: Audrey Wells
Audio: English 5.1, French
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Video: Color, anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Buena Vista
Features: Commentary, making-of featurette, trailers, deleted scenes
Length: 113 minutes
Release Date: February 3, 2004
you're going to be happy again."
Something about Italy and France and the cinema
always conjures up images of young lovers in love. Once, genre films about exotic romance for international
tourists in such European backdrops were quite commonplace. Under the Tuscan Sun
(2003) harkens back to those days of old. Starring
Diane Lane and set amongst the gorgeous countrysides of rural Italy, Under
the Tuscan Sun is a redemptive tale of the struggles of a young and
distraught divorcée to restore happiness and contentment back into her life.
is a loose adaptation of a bestseller by Frances Mayes.
The film starts in sunny California, where good-hearted Frances (Diane
Lane) has just uncovered her husband's infidelity (with a younger woman,
naturally). As California is a
"no-fault" state, the complicated divorce settlement requires that
Frances pay alimony to her faithless spouse!
Frances strikes a quick deal - she sells her share of their former home
together to her ex-husband in exchange for a quick alimony buy-out to exorcise
him from her life forevermore.
Frances moves to a halfway house of sorts for new
divorcées. Clearly, she is not
particularly happy, but she has a devoted friend in Patti (Sandra Oh), who one
evening presents to her a vacation ticket to Italy. It is a gift of friendship and an opportunity for Frances to
recover from her personal crisis, perhaps starting anew with a fresh slate.
At first, Frances is hesitant to accept the gift but soon realizes that
she has nothing left to lose. She
then embarks upon a cathartic trip abroad that also serves as an internal
journey through self-discovery and self-worth.
In Italy, Frances happens upon a quaint country manor
that attracts her attention. Run-down
and mostly abandoned, this home strangely appeals to her.
Frances impulsively purchases the home, and her struggles to re-model and
restore the house become a metaphor for her own attempts to reconstruct her own
life. As life and beauty is
restored to this Italian manor, so does Frances's outlook upon life become more
warm and inviting.
Naturally, lovers abound in this film.
Frances encounters several potential suitors - a caring realtor with an
open ear to her early woes, a Polish construction worker with a not-very
discreet crush on her, and naturally a young and virile Italian admirer.
There also is teenaged love between a young Polish carpenter repairing
Frances's home and an Italian girl, the daughter of another carpenter.
Frances's role as a mediator between the girl's disapproving father and
the young Polish carpenter is yet another step in her own personal recovery.
If Under the
Tuscan Sun sounds decidedly familiar or even clichéd, that is because it
is. The film makes little attempt
to hide its conventional elements, and though the love story (or stories)
present nothing that audiences have not seen before in such films, its final
message is still a hopeful and optimistic one - that true happiness can
ultimately be found from within. Sometimes,
the support of friends is better than the fickle love of a fleeting romance or
even a failed marriage.
As Frances, Diane Lane is reliably wonderful.
She is a gifted and lovely actress, and her performance is the best thing
about this film. Without Diane
Lane, Under the Tuscan Sun would have
seemed a generic and ordinary genre film; with her, the film, despite its clichés,
demonstrates warmth and charm. This
film may not be particularly insightful, but its observations and optimism
suggest that, no matter our personal crises, genuine friendship and compassion
still exist in this world to help us through our darkest hours.
is shown in its original widescreen 1.85:1 format. The colors are quite warm, and skin tone is realistic.
Detail levels are solid without bleed or image breakup in darker scenes.
Much of the film's cinematography is lush and beautiful, so the fine
video presentation on this DVD is much appreciated.
is mostly dialogue-driven, so the soundtrack is generally muted and subdued.
However, the lush score contributes quite significantly to the romantic
tone of the story.
First of all, a pox upon Disney for continuing to
place trailers and advertisement at beginning of all their DVD start-ups.
Fortunately, these obstrusions can be by-passed by clicking the menu
button. Sneak peeks include
trailers for My Boss's Daughter, Hidalgo,
and Calendar Girls, plus promos for
the Soap Net cable channel and the Under
the Tuscan Sun soundtrack CD. You
can review all of these items elsewhere in the "Sneak Peeks"
supplemental section, too.
Overall, this DVD is generally light on substantial
features. There is Tuscany 101, a making-of featurette (9 min.) that is mostly
promotional in nature. Members of
the main cast, director Audrey Wells, and author Frances Mayes all discuss the
film's themes and its beautiful locales and settings. There are also three deleted scenes covering a short singing
contractor sequence, the discovery of a fresco painting, and a montage of
eccentric town characters.
The most worthwhile feature is the audio commentary
by director Audrey Wells. She
doesn't gush over her film but instead offers solid comments about the
characters and their emotional motivations in service of the film's themes.
As far as commentary tracks for mainstream films go, this is a fairly
Lastly, there is an Easter egg that is accessible
from the "Bonus Features" menu. Click
on the left-most flower pot on this screen to open a portrait-painting scene.
Because some shots in this scene contain nudity, the scene had to be
digitally altered to garner a PG-13 rating for the finalized film version. Some of the computer touch-up work is highlighted in this
easter egg, which shows the scene as originally photographed.