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The East

The East emerges as an exciting piece of filmmaking from the independent scene’s hott —Matt Anderson (review...)

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Based loosely on the book by Frances Mayes, Under the Tuscan Sun is a tearjerker, an emotional roller coaster. In two words, it’s a chick flick. It’s effective at what it does, and I was willing to let it take me on its ride, but I’ll have a hard time recommending it strongly.

Catch You on the Rebound

Frances revels in her new surroundings
Frances revels in her new surroundings

Diane Lane, fresh from her Academy Award nominated performance in Unfaithful, plays Frances, a writer. In an ugly divorce, she loses her house. To cheer her up her lesbian friends, one just now pregnant, give her a ten-day tour of Tuscany.

Her tour group passes through a little village, where Frances, intrigued by the town’s charm, decides to buy an old house. Soon enough she has a new circle of friends. She hires Polish workers to remodel, and in emergencies — like when a snake slithers into her house — she calls her friend and real estate agent Signor Martini (Vincent Riotta). Her neighbors grow olives, and they invite her for dinner every so often. And the woman who lives in her own La Dolce Vita, whom Frances saw in the town square that first day, encourages her to live sensually.

Frances keeps one eye open for the man she is destined to meet. The real estate agent is already married. The olive-grower’s son is a little too obvious. The Polish workers are either too old, too young, or too creepy. Finally, she meets Marcello (Raoul Bova), who sweeps her off her feet in a single day of pure entertainment. Marcello feels like Mr. Right, but first Frances has to take care of a few things.

The Kitchen Sink

Frances’ pregnant friend comes to visit. The remodeling job gets finished. The youngest Pole has a crisis of the heart with the olive-grower’s daughter, and Frances is called upon to mediate. Clearly, writer/director Audrey Wells takes the “kitchen sink” approach to screenwriting. And while each moment is effective, there is too much going on to make a solid, cohesive movie.

Frances is the center of gravity, fighting the plot’s centripetal force and keeping the parts from spinning off into different movies. With so much going on, a strong center is important, and Lane is up to the challenge.

But the need for a strong center requires some compromises from the script. If Frances has to be the center of the universe, then all the other characters can exist only in relation to her. Under the Tuscan Sun is not an ensemble movie, in spite of the memorable secondary characters. Only once does someone tell Frances no and travel off on their own trajectory. By comparison, the other characters might as well be Frances’ possessions, trapped in her orbit as they are.

Both of these script problems have the potential to annoy. Luckily, I was in a receptive mood and I actually enjoyed the separate moments of the movie as pleasant, light, tear-jerking entertainment. I’m not sure anyone can enjoy it as an entire film, though.

Under the Tuscan Sun is not for all tastes, but it is as good a trip to Tuscany as any two-hour movie can be. If the words “chick flick” don’t scare you off, there’s no reason to avoid Under the Tuscan Sun.