Touchstone Pictures // 2003 // 113 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Jim Thomas // July 23rd, 2012
At the tender age of thirteen, Diane Lane made her film debut in 1979's A Little Romance, opposite some stiff named Olivier. It wasn't long before she was tabbed as the next big thing, but a single poor decision derailed her early career: she turned down the female leads in Splash and Risky Business to star in Streets of Fire. Oops. Streets of Fire tanked, and she toiled away in semi-obscurity for years.
All that changed in 2002, with the release of Unfaithful. Her searing yet sensitive performance finally pushed her to the A-list, bagging her a Best Actress nomination. With her hard-earned clout, she chose as her next film a quirky little film about a divorcée who runs away to Italy, Touchstone now brings us Under the Tuscan Sun (Blu-ray).
In a heartbeat, Frances' (Diane Lane) world crumbled. Her husband left her for another woman and added insult to injury by getting the better of her in the divorce settlement. Living in a short-term apartment complex inhabited by the newly divorced, she's in a shambles. Her best friend Patti (Sandra Oh, Sideways), worried that Frances may never snap out of it, hands her a ticket to Tuscany. Overwhelmed by the beauty of the countryside, she gives in to impulse and sinks the bulk of her money into a dilapidated villa. Restoring the old villa turns out to be a little more than she bargained for, but as it turns out, Frances isn't just renovating her house; she's renovating her spirit as well.
Under the Tuscan Sun is an unconventional romantic comedy in that there is no male romantic lead; the whole point of the movie is that Frances has become so detached from the world that she has to learn how to live again before she can even think about love. It sounds kind of trite and overly saccharine, but it works well, thanks to exceptional performances and a perfectly paced script.
Movies like this remind you that there is more to casting a romantic lead than good looks. Don't get me wrong -- Diane Lane is positively stunning, but she brings so much more to the table; she translates the same subtlety and vulnerability from Unfaithful to this vastly different setting, so that Frances comes across as a fully realized character. Whether it's dramatic, romantic, or comedic, she's up to the challenge. She even handles the narration with aplomb. She's capably aided with a strong supporting cast. The notable standouts are Sandra Oh (Sideways) as her lesbian friend and Lindsay Duncan (Rome) as the free-spirited American expatriate who takes Frances under her wing. Of particular note is Vincent Riotta (Nine) as Martini, the real estate agent who sold her the villa and who befriends Frances. Martini's warmth is a balm to Frances in the early going, and in a lesser movie, there would have been a romantic entanglement of some sort. Wisely, the film has the characters acknowledge the mutual attraction, but both seem to instinctively know that nothing will come of it, and they're fine with that.
The other character of note is, of course, Tuscany itself, and it is here that the 1.85:1/1080p AVC codec shines. Hell, it practically glows. From the coastline to the olive groves to the crumbling plaster on walls of the villa, you get outstanding color saturation and rich textures. One of the turning points in the film is when Frances starts cooking (the original book is part memoir, part cookbook), and you will get hungry just looking at the sumptuous feast. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is surprisingly good, particularly for a romcom, featuring very strong frequency response, as well as excellent imaging, and allows you to appreciate Christophe Beck's luscious score.
Extras are decent. The making-of featurette is rather vanilla. On the other hand, the commentary track by writer/director Audrey Wells is engaging and full of useful information about the production.
Under the Tuscan Sun plays like exceptionally good comfort food. You have a pretty good idea of what to expect, but you're still surprised by how much you enjoy it. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Touchstone Pictures
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 113 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13