Diane Lane enjoyed a career-rejuvenation in 2002, with her Oscar-nominated role in the romantic thriller, Unfaithful. She has worked steadily before then, appearing in one movie a year, but either the films underperformed or her role wasn’t distinctive enough. After Unfaithful, Lane was able to follow through with higher profile gigs, including the romantic dramedy, Under the Tuscan Sun, a film loosely based on Frances Mayes’ memoirs of buying and rehabbing a house in
Italy.   

Frances (Lane) is a gorgeous, successful San Francisco writer who has just found out her husband is leaving her for another woman. Despondent she falls into a deep depression that has her moving into an apartment complex inhabited by folks who are just as pathetic as she. Her best friend, Patti (Sandra Oh) announces she’s having a baby with her partner and cannot go a packaged tour of Italy, so she passes the ticket onto Frances who initially is reluctant to go on a tour of romantic
Tuscany alone. Until she learns that the tour is for gay couples. In Italy,
Frances falls in love with a villa, and in an impetuous move buys the place. The episodic film then charts Frances’ life as she builds up her home (with the help of a trio of Polish contractors), befriends the locals and even falls in love.            

Director Audrey Wells, who also diluted Mayes’ book for the film, presents a postcard pretty Italy. The fields of sunflowers are shockingly vibrant and bright; the hills are lush and overflowing with foliage; the villages are also idealized – they’re bustling, with an almost absurd amount of “old world charm.” It’s lovely to look at, breathtaking at times. Shots of Rome (where
Frances meets the obligatory Roman hunk) are equally impressive. Wells frames the film, and the characters, like a painting – there are not complicated or fussy shots or angles – it’s all refreshingly straightforward and clear. Wells knows she cannot compete with brilliance of nature, and she doesn’t try to, instead presenting the Tuscan landscape like a well-made photograph.            

As much as Wells loves the Italian landscape, she seems to love her star more. Diane Lane never looks bad – she is just as idealized as her surroundings, though this does not take away anything from Lane’s performance which is superb. She is one the few rare actresses that combine jaw-dropping beauty, with real talent. The film could’ve gotten syrupy, if it wasn’t for Lane’s ability to play both heartbreak and joy beautifully. The film also allows for her to show off her considerable comic prowess (one scene in particular has her sliding down the side of a hill, and she still looked fabulous doing it). The members of the supporting cast do well, though their roles are not nearly as well-written. As the best friend, Oh has some choice scenes, though one wishes she was in the film more as she shares a wonderful chemistry with Lane (their reunion scene is worth the price of admission alone).            

Under the Tuscan Sun isn’t a perfect film. It is a bit unrealistic that a woman as put together as Frances would just move to Italy without warning.  Also the locals presented are a bit too cute and eccentric – though Lindsay Duncan is delightful as Katherine, a British expatriate who claims to be a muse of Federico Fellini – and some veer very close to caricatures. It’s still a great way to spend two hours. The film does have some profound moments, most notably when looking at the new family Frances made for herself in Italy. Though peppered with clichés, the film is still a great excuse to look at two natural beauties: the Tuscan countryside and Diane Lane.