Touchstone Pictures // 2003 // 113 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Elizabeth Skipper (Retired) // March 2nd, 2004
"They say they built the train tracks over the Alps between Vienna and Venice before there was a train that could make the trip. They built it anyway. They knew one day a train would come."
By now, we're all nauseatingly familiar with the formula for a typical romantic comedy. It starts with the girl being unhappy for some reason, usually because of a recent breakup. Then the girl meets a new boy, but for some reason they can't be together right away. Maybe she hates him to begin with, maybe he's studying to become a priest, or maybe she needs a makeover; whatever the reason, we spend the rest of the movie watching some greater hand try to get our fated lovers together. In the end, they find each other and, we can only assume, live happily ever after.
When I saw the previews for Under the Tuscan Sun, it looked like the typical romantic comedy I just described, so I thought I knew exactly what to expect. Thankfully, I was wrong.
When we first meet Frances (Diane Lane, Unfaithful, The Perfect Storm), she is vibrant, beautiful, and about to learn that her husband is having an affair. In the next scene, she's a mess, as her lawyer tells her that her husband wants to buy her out of their house. She agrees and soon moves out and into a ridiculously depressing short-term housing apartment. She's close to hitting bottom, so when circumstances give Frances the opportunity to take a free tour of Tuscany, she decides it might be just what she needs.
She's not there long when she realizes that Tuscany inspires her to write, and she's not there much longer than that when she realizes that the signs are telling her to buy Bramasole, a villa she's stumbled across. So, using the money she received in the divorce, she does. And she spends the rest of the movie fixing her house and herself at the same time.
You'll notice I didn't mention the "boy" in this romantic comedy. That's because there isn't one. Well, more precisely, there is one, but he's relatively insignificant to the story, and the movie is most certainly not about Frances' struggles to get together with him. He's nothing more than a minor plot point. Despite appearances, Under the Tuscan Sun is not your typical romantic comedy.
And that is what makes it so enjoyable. (Well, that and solid acting, phenomenal cinematography, and characters who are just the right amount of quirky, but we'll get to those shortly.) I hadn't realized how defeating it can become to watch romantic comedies, to root for a woman to find a man. After centuries of fighting for equality and independence, we celebrate when our heroine finds a man; the movie is not over until she does, so it must follow that her life is not complete until she finds him. So, although this film is by no means a "feminist" film, it's still refreshing to celebrate our heroine finding herself, instead of a man.
Under the Tuscan Sun makes this story all the more refreshing by providing us with characters we actually care about and talented actors to portray them. From Patti's dry wit to Pawel and Chiara's endearing naïveté to Signor Martini's struggle to balance fidelity and attraction, I found myself drawn in by these supporting characters. Of course, it helps that they are supporting Frances, expertly played by Diane Lane, who brings a surprising subtlety to a character that could easily have become farcical. All the characters, both minor and major, combine with an easy chemistry to give Tuscany a heart to go along with its beauty.
And beauty indeed abounds in the film. With its sweeping shots of flowered fields and other jaw-dropping vistas, Under the Tuscan Sun made me homesick for a place I've never been. The ancient charm of the villa and the warmth of its surroundings are wordlessly explained, and colors appear in combinations I suspect occur nowhere else on Earth. Pure, delectable, gorgeous...there are not enough words to describe what you can only understand by seeing.
Thankfully, Touchstone has done justice to these images with a nearly flawless 1.85:1 transfer that may leave you feeling you've actually been to Tuscany. The picture is crisp, the colors are stunning and vibrant, and the blacks are deep. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix follows suit, though, understandably, it's not quite as outstanding. Making moderate use of the surrounds and subwoofer, it's exactly what you'd expect from a romantic comedy.
Under the Tuscan Sun includes the following bonus features:
* Audio Commentary with Director/Screenwriter Audrey Wells: Wells gives an
informative commentary that will keep you interested through to the end.
* "Tuscany 101": This nine-minute featurette gives a brief look at the making of the film.
* Deleted Scenes: Included are "The Singing Contractor," "Discovering the Fresco," and "Clapper Montage," all of which are cute, short scenes that don't add to the plot.
* Easter Egg: You shouldn't have to search very hard to find this exposition on what it took to add underwear to a previously naked butt in order to achieve a PG-13 rating.
* Trailers for Hidalgo, Calendar Girls, My Boss's Daughter, the original score for Under the Tuscan Sun, and SoapNet
My only complaint about Under the Tuscan Sun is with Frances' friend Katherine, who is too complex to have been relegated to such a minor role. She claims to be happy, reveling in her "childish innocence," but there is a sadness about her that is never explored. I suppose that would have been another movie, though.
If you're avoiding Under the Tuscan Sun because of its romantic-comedy-like appearance, I urge you to give it a try. I think it will surprise you. If you're avoiding Under the Tuscan Sun because of its chick-flick-like appearance, I still urge you to give it a try. If you don't find something redeeming in the second-tier characters, you will no doubt be drawn in by the beauty of the cinematography.
And for those of you who saw the movie in the theater and enjoyed it, have no qualms about purchasing this DVD, if for no other reason than you can see Zeus's butt as it was originally intended.
The papers have been drawn up and the closing date approaches -- the house is yours!
Review content copyright © 2004 Elizabeth Skipper; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Touchstone Pictures
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 113 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Audio Commentary with Director/Screenwriter Audrey Wells
* "Tuscany 101" Featurette
* Deleted Scenes
* Trailers for Hidalgo, Calendar Girls, My Boss's Daughter, the Original Score for Under the Tuscan Sun, and SoapNet
* Easter Egg: "Underwear Addition" Featurette