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UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN (2003)

One year after a painful divorce, novelist and book reviewer Frances Mayes decides to take a Gay and Away tour of Tuscany at the urging of her good friends Patti and her gay partner, in hopes of breaking through her depression and writer's block. The warmth and beauty of Cortena offered a comfort to Frances, inspiring new ideas. One thing leads to another and Frances winds up buying a fixer upper, charming villa, the vehicle in which she begins to rebuild her life.

The cast includes: Diane Lane, Sandra Oh, Lindsay Duncan, Raoul Bova, Vincent Riotta, Mario Monicelli, Roberto Nobile, Anita Zagaria, Evelina Gori, Valentine Pelka, and Sasa Vulicevic.

Screenplay by Audrey Wells, based on the novel by Frances Mayes, "Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy."

Directed by: Audrey Wells.

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Promotional line: "Life offers you a thousand chances ... all you have to do is take one."

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The story begins at a celebration for a new author's book, a former student (Elden Henson) of a novelist, teacher, book reviewer by the name of Francis Mayes (Diane Lane). At this moment in time, Francis is happily married to a novelist named Tom and lives in a Victorian house, which they restored with the money Francis received from her mother's estate. AT the reception, the guests are enjoying the refreshments, including Francis' killer brownies, when turmoil raises its ugly head. A revengeful novelist (Don McManus), who bitterly resents a negative review that Francis wrote about his book, finds a nasty way to tell her about her beloved Tom's infidelity. YIKES!

As Francis sits in a fog in her lawyer's office, she finds out that her Tom was having a love affair with a young college student and has the gall to ask for alimony, because Francis had been supporting him while he was supposed to be writing his novel. But, if she agrees to give him the house, he will forgo it, as his young honey loves the house!

"Do you know the most surprising thing about divorce? It doesn't actually kill you. Like a bullet to the heart or a head-on car wreck. It should. When someone you've promised to cherish till death do you part says "I never loved you," it should kill you instantly. You shouldn't have to wake up day after day after that, trying to understand how in the world you didn't know. The light just never went on, you know. I must have known, of course, but I was too scared to see the truth. Then fear just makes you so stupid." - Francis

After a year of living in a depressing apartment building with other depressed divorced people, Francis is still in pain and suffering from writer's block. Then her friend, Patti (Sandra Oh) and her gay partner invite Francis out to dinner to mark the one year anniversary of the divorce and also announce that Patti is expecting a baby via artificial insemination in May and that they had turned in their coach tickets and had gotten Francis a first class ticket to Italy to take their place on the Gay and Away bus tour of Tuscany.

Francis didn't say yes right away, but after thinking about Patti's "You are at a crossroads speech," and banging on the wall at her crying, depressed neighbor one too many times, (she finds herself agreeing to come over later), Francis decides to go on this tour, which changes her life as she finds herself going down another road she had never imagined in her drab apartment in San Francisco.

When the bus deposited her tour group in the town square of Cortena, a town in the middle of Tuscany, Francis finds the market day taking place in front of her eyes, a place full of life, interesting people like Katherine (Lindsay Duncan), a place she finds comforting and hopeful. She finds herself looking at the real estate ads posted on the window of a real estate office, and sees a villa for sale, in need of some TLC; something she loves to do; fix up old houses.

On an impulse, she gets off the bus as it leaves the town and goes into this 300 year old villa and winds up buying the place from her soon to be close platonic friend, real estate agent, Martini (Vincent Riotta), after two pigeons poop on her head (a sign!). Thus begins her new, grand adventure on the road to personal healing and growth as a human being. With the help of her mentors, Martini and Katherine a retired actress, her neighbors, her polish workmen and her friend Patti, Francis finds that her personal life, her dreams and her needs are rebuilt in different ways than imagined and fulfilled as she renovates her villa, and expands her life experiences with people around her.

Francis: "What are four walls, anyway? They are what they contain. The house protects the dreamer. Unthinkably good things can happen, even late in the game. It's such a surprise."

Many think this film is a chick flick, as it deals with a woman's journey to start over, determined to overcome personal tragedy and hurt, by stepping out in new ways, sometimes stumbling, changing her perceptions about family, discovering old hobbies in a new light. She builds a structure for a life that she wants, though she can't see it happening yet, like the people who built the railroad tracks between Italy and Switzerland before trains could handle the trip.

It has some philosophies that apply to both sexes, though many men would prefer action and less relationship - emotional plot development scenes, which has the tendency to make men sit on their necks.

"Life offers you a thousand chances....All you have to do is take one."

Katherine: "Regrets are a waste of time. They're the past crippling you in the present."

Martini: "The railroad tracks between Italy and Switzerland were built a long time before there was a train that could make the journey, because they knew someday there would be one."

Plus, seeking an intimate relationship for the wrong reasons, on a rebound or for personal self-esteem often doesn't end very happily either. Both Francis and Katherine jump into relationships with men and wind up hurt once again. Katherine finds a young art student, Zeus and Francis has a brief weekend affair with an Italian, Marcello, who has a short memory and no sense of commitment. Instead of wallowing in her own hurt feelings, she steps out to help the young polish teen, Pawel(Pawel Szajda) and the daughter of her neighbor who think they are in love over the objections of the girl's father.

Audrey Wells wrote the screenplay, was the director and was a producer of this beautifully filmed, romantic, poignant and humorous, feel-good film, brought to life by a dynamite cast, led by Diane Lane, who is very convincing as Francis, and carries the story very easily bringing a lot to the story and film. Voice-over narration by Diane Lane (Francis) in the beginning of several scenes throughout the film was an effective way to explain her thoughts and reasons on how she was interpreting situations. Diane Lane is very good at doing voice over, unlike Harrison Ford (Blade Runner).

Award winning stage actress, Lindsay Duncan does a fabulous job portraying the eccentric actress, Katherine, who got her start as a youth in Fellini films.

Vincent Riotta was very convincing as the kindhearted real estate agent, Martini, who turns out to be a great friend to Francis, guiding her with little bits of wisdom.

Sandra Oh - Was delightful as Patti, Francis's gay friend who gave her the ticket in the first place, and then later wound up going to stay with Francis when life sent her a rather painful curve.

The handsome Raoul Bova - did a good job playing Francis' weekend Italian boyfriend.

Rated PG-13 for sexual content and language. This film has language (a few F words), and two sex scenes that children really shouldn't see. Parents should see this film with their youth and point out that hasty, feel-good sex for self-centered reasons gets in the way of rational thinking. If Francis had paid attention to what Marcello had said about his thoughts about relationships and commitment before she popped into bed with him, she would've known to think of him as just a friend and not risked her heart yet again.

If you enjoyed UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN, you may like STARTING OVER, ONE TRUE THING, WAITING TO EXHALE, and ROXANNE.

Katherine: "It's a nice little villa. Are you going to buy it?"

Frances:"The way my life is currently going, that would be a terrible idea"

Katherine: "Terrible idea... Don't you just love those?"

Martini: "The railroad tracks between Italy and Switzerland were built a long time before there was a train that could make the journey, because they knew someday there would be one.