“Under the Tuscan Sun” throws its arms around us and invites us on an impossible journey. 


An Illusion review by Joan Ellis


                         What’s going on when the public fills the multiplex’s biggest theater for a sneak preview?  Perhaps they are just sunk in despair after watching “Magdalene” and “Thirteen,” two good but disturbing movies that provide no distraction from a week of world troubles.  In all this misery, “Under the Tuscan Sun” throws its arms around us and invites us on an impossible journey. 

                All such fairy tales will inevitably bear the stamp of  “Enchanted April,” the film that taught us how a place itself can sprinkle fairy dust on the dullest and most boorish of modern beings.  And so this one does.  A Tuscan villa in need of loving care can certainly rescue a woman sunk in depression after being abandoned by a loutish husband.  So goes the theme.

                Frances (Diane Lane), a novelist who writes book reviews to cover the lack of progress with her new book, floats through a literary cocktail party and learns that her husband is having an affair.  A few short cuts later, Frances has moved herself and three cartons of books into a building of rental flats specializing in divorced tenants in transition.  Now only a little way into the movie, we are happy to know already that the dialogue will not be predictable or sappy.  Instead, the film rides along on crisp, funny lines that have been written for a cast more than up to their parts.  What a welcome surprise. 

                Frances, the disciplined writer, throws up her hands one day and accepts a ticket to Italy from her gay best friend.   Dazzled by the sight of Bramasole, a villa for sale, she leaves the tour bus and stares in wonder at the rundown place that will become the home where she will create her life.  Here comes the fairy dust.  The family Frances has longed for materializes slowly, not in an ordinary way, but in the quirky, extended way of today.  Unlikely surely, but lovely to behold. 

                If the lines are sharply funny, physical stereotypes abound, but each of them is wrapped in a good performance that makes fun of itself.  The Italian hunk of Frances’ dreams (Raoul Bova) is the embodiment of the American vision of the Italian lover come to life.  The town eccentric (Lindsay Duncan) lives out her Fellini fantasy.  Mr. Martini (Vincent Riotta, in a lovely performance), becomes a protector.  Patty, the pregnant best friend from home (Sandra Oh) arrives, and the Polish renovation team becomes a mighty part of the fun.

                All these people revolve around the strong central performance of Diane Lane.  Playing the typical earnest American in search of a way to be useful and productive, she allows the ways of the rural Italian culture to surprise and please her.  Confident, yet vulnerable, she becomes the maypole for the slightly nutty people who are drawn to her.  The fairy dust, of course, settles lightly and wondrously on them all. 

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