Under The Tuscan Sun

"That is so Oprah," says recently divorced college professor Diane Lane, in response to the suggestion that she take a vacation to Italy to sort out her problems. It's a shame no one else in Under The Tuscan Sun applies the same standard. Adapted from the bestselling memoir by Frances Mayes, Under The Tuscan Sun follows Lane from a San Francisco divorcée palace of furnished one-room apartments to Tuscany, where serendipitous events lead to her purchasing a 300-year-old villa. She might as well have insisted on a contractual contingency about learning to live again. Soon she's contracting out remodeling work to lovable Polish immigrants, picking olives at her neighbor's house, and befriending an aging Fellini starlet who dispenses words of wisdom that sound closer to Dr. Phil than the director of La Dolce Vita. Roberto Rossellini's 1953 film Voyage To Italy set a precedent for how to do the tourism-as-self-discovery movie correctly, putting estranged marrieds Ingrid Bergman and George Sanders in a new environment and letting it reflect both the darkness within themselves and the possibility for joy in the face of that darkness. But in this life-sized Prego commercial, joy practically scores a first-round knockout. Lane's eventual emergence from her funk is a virtual inevitability, given the teeming piazzas, sweeping scenery, and warmly two-dimensional Italian stereotypes. (In what part of Tuscany is comically accented English the native language?) Writer-director Audrey Wells never aims higher than postcard filmmaking, and Under The Tuscan Sun at least works on that level, by casting its little operetta of self-realization and remodeling travails against some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. And, apart from the annoying voiceover, Lane's performance gives the postcard a hint of depth. If the film gave her more moments of genuine reflection, or a few more scenes with sardonic lesbian best friend Sandra Oh, the state of Lane's soul might seem as important as the condition of her roof.

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