Directed by Audrey Wells. USA. 2003.

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I usually give the benefit of the doubt to films that have their heart in the right place, but Audrey Wells' Under the Tuscan Sun is about as authentic as a commercial for Mamma Mia's Spaghetti Sauce. Wells has taken a picturesque novel about an older couple buying and renovating a villa in Italy and turned it into a contrived melodrama filled with the most obvious stereotypes. The film stars Academy Award winner Diane Lane as Frances Mayes, a writer who, after divorcing a cheating spouse is sent on a Gay bus tour of Italy by her pregnant Lesbian friend Patti (Sandra Oh). When she spots a rundown villa called Bramasole, she decides on the spur of the moment to buy and renovate it. She finds cute itinerant laborers from Poland to add to the mix, and before you can say "chick flick", the villa looks like a palace. All that is needed is someone to sleep in her bed and a wedding in the patio. 

I don't mind films that present a woman's point of view but here the men come off especially badly. Beyond her philandering husband, there is the writer who tells Frances of her husband's affair to get back at her for a bad review and Frances' lawyer who has no sympathy for her whatever. There's more. There is the obligatory romantic Italian named Marcello (of course) but he is deceitful and she is left to fall back for comfort on her friend Patti who comes to visit her in Italy, even though ready to deliver her baby. I could go on and tell you about the teenager who wants to marry a Polish laborer but her parents object, not unreasonably it seems to me, because she has just met the boy, an itinerant laborer with no education. They are persuaded, however, because he performs well in a flag-throwing contest and Frances lies and says he is part of her family. 

This is movie making on the level of a television sitcom. It plucks the right heartstrings, has an uplifting message, and appeals to just about every known demographic. The only thing lacking is narrative coherence and emotional truth. On the plus side, it has a good message, (fulfillment can be found by giving to others) and, thanks to cinematographer Geoffrey Simpson, the redeeming beauty of the Tuscan countryside. This plus Diane Lane is worth the price of admission but there is little else to recommend it except of course if you are doing research on the difference between art and artifice.

Howard Schumann
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