I would have never thought Diane Lane's performance as an adulterous wife in Adrian Lyne's Unfaithful would have earned her an Oscar nomination, let alone become the role that vaulted her career. Before Unfaithful, Lane played predominately background roles; now, she is a sexy Hollywood leading lady. Under the Tuscan Sun is carried almost exclusively by Lane, and while the signs clearly indicate she has the gift for such an undertaking, she's never given a chance to explore that potential in this film.
Lane plays San Francisco book critic and writer Frances Mayes (a real person who looks nothing like Diane Lane), whose recent divorce has sent her life into a tailspin. Recognizing that a change in scenery may be just the thing Frances needs, her newly pregnant best friend Patti (Sandra Oh) gives her a 10-day vacation in Tuscany, Italy. While on her tour, Frances impulsively buys a dilapidated villa called Bramasole, with the hopes of eventually turning it into a place where her own life can flourish once again. With the help of a friendly local real estate agent Señor Martini (Vincent Riotta), Frances secures a Polish construction crew to assist in the renovation of her new home.
Frances quickly becomes immersed in the local culture, and forms many friendships (really, it's too many) with the hospitable townspeople. Among those she meets is an eccentric, storytelling English socialite named Katherine (Lindsay Duncan), who helps Frances adapt to her new Italian lifestyle. Frances also befriends a neighbor family that teaches her how to harvest the massive olive crop located near her villa. Frances even progresses to the point where she is able to eventually fall in love with an Italian entrepreneur (Raoul Bova). By the time the film reaches its third act, it seems as if there isn't anyone in town Frances has not met.
For its opening acts, Under the Tuscan Sun sparkles with a sense of whimsy as we see Frances get acclimated to her new surroundings and grow past her divorce. Especially amusing is the relationship she develops with the Polish construction crew as she attempts to communicate her ideas with them. All they can ever manage to do is inadvertently tear down the wrong walls. Lane is utterly charming, with a sparkling smile and a youthful innocence in full glow. She is clearly leading lady material, and her performance is better than those by Julia Roberts or Sandra Bullock in similar lighthearted comedies.
The film works until its midpoint where it quickly devolves into a formulaic resolution for all of the melodramas in Frances's life: Patti moves to Tuscany to raise her baby alone; Frances must convince her neighbor that it's okay for their daughter to date a non-Italian; Frances comforts Katherine with her relationship issues. I could go on! It's almost like director Audrey Wells, who adapted the film from Frances Mayes's book of the same name, dug herself a hole so deep with all of the extraneous characters, that she had to waste the second half of the movie explaining their significance (or in this case, their lack thereof). While doing so, Lane's masterful performance is immediately abandoned, as she becomes relegated to a supporting character.
Under the Tuscan Sun is an attractive fairy tale of a film, with a likeable cast, beautiful scenery, and genuine, heartfelt sincerity. But, with all of the extra and unnecessary details, those qualities are significantly dwarfed and the film becomes nothing more than a Lifetime, chick-flick, movie-of-the-week on the big screen.
On DVD there's a short making-of featurette, three deleted scenes, and a full audio commentary by writer/director Wells.
Drunk, and under the sun.