UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN directed and written by Audrey Wells from the book by Frances Mayes, produced by Wells and Tom Sternberg, with Diane Lane, Raoul Bova, Sandra Oh and Pawel Szadja. 113 minutes. A Disney production. A Touchstone Pictures release. Opens Friday (September 26). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 85. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Diane Lane is a great worrier. Maybe it's a by-product of playing all those moms in recent years, in films as light as My Dog Skip or as dramatic as Unfaithful. The worry lines are delicately traced around her mouth. In Under The Tuscan Sun, she has no kids but still worries, especially after her husband dumps her and gets the house in the divorce. She heads for Tuscany after her pregnant lesbian friend gives her a ticket, and there she buys a rundown villa.
This is, of course, the North American bourgeois intellectual's third great fantasy. In the our late teens we want an apartment in Greenwich Village. In our 20s we want a flat in Paris. In our 30s, it's the south of France or Tuscany, and an entire small wing of the publishing industry is devoted to that dream.
Frances Mayes, whose story this is, got to live it out only to discover that renovating a 300-year-old house in Italy isn't the same as updating an 80-year-old house in San Francisco or New York.
There are snakes in the vines, the workers don't speak English, and knocking out a wall may bring down a rain of large rocks.
Plus, the really cute guy you meet lives about 150 miles away, one of your workers is dating your neighbour's daughter and uses your house for assignations, and your pregnant lesbian friend shows up out of the blue.
Audrey Wells, who wrote and directed Guinevere and wrote The Truth About Cats & Dogs, isn't real big on narrative, but she is a tremendous director of actresses. Lane has been so reliably good in bad material over the years that it's always a great pleasure to see her in a good picture with a good director. It's also great to see Sandra Oh liberated from that hellish HBO show, Arliss. Talk about when bad shows happen to good people.
Under The Tuscan Sun isn't quite romance or comedy.
It's a fish-out-of-water fantasy in which the warmth of the sun and the glow of the landscape set off the star - and Lane is a star worthy of the setting. She does tremendous close-up work, never playing too big; her emotions and reactions are as precise as a slight moue or the barest furrowing of her brow. Her performance here could be the paradigm of the oft-stated idea that great film acting is reacting.
A pleasantly adult evening at the cinema, and one of the few films I've seen lately where the audience gasps at the landscape.