Under The Tuscan Sun (4/10)

 Copyright © 2003 by Tony Medley


Rome Adventure (1962) was a movie starring Suzanne Pleshette and Troy Donohue about an American tourist (Pleshette) who resigns her job and goes to Italy and gets involved with an American architect (Donohue). It was a pretty silly movie, but it was a great travelogue and I actually enjoyed it.

 Segue to 2003 and Under The Tuscan Sun, which is the 21st Centuryís answer to Rome Adventure.  Although itís the translation of a book by Frances Mayes into film, it was written, produced, and directed by Audrey Wells, who obviously has a political point, which is what sets it apart from Rome Adventure.  From what I know about Mayesís book, to say itís ďloosely basedĒ on the book is to say a mouthful.  But itís got a lot in common with Rome Adventure in that itís pretty silly and itís a great travelogue.  I want it on the record right here that Iíd watch Diane Lane in anything, even if sheís just sitting there looking at the camera.  The woman is drop dead gorgeous.  The fact that she can act is a bonus.

 As in Rome Adventure, the shots of Italy in Under The Tuscan Sun are beautiful and worth the price of admission, thanks to cinematographer Geoffrey Simpson.  But the story, well, itís weaker than the story in Rome Adventure.  Frances, (Lane), a writer recovering from a bad divorce, takes a gay tour of Europe, sees a broken down villa, buys it on a whim and sets out to renovate it.  Unfortunately, the story is vintage Hollywood.  To understand what would really happen if someone bought a broken down building in a foreign country, one must read Herman Woukís Donít Stop The Carnival.  Thatís realistic (I have not read all of Mayesís book; maybe itís realistic, too).  This is Hollywood, so Francesís experiences are unrealistic, but highly romantic.  With very little effort the broken down villa is converted into something resembling Fontainebleau. Viewed in their best light, the characters are paper m‚che. 

 What sets Tuscan apart is that itís full of points of view which can charitably be described as in-your-face feminism that could easily offend people of traditional values. And itís apparently what Audrey Wells wants to say because I these story lines are not in the book. 

 First is that throughout the movie men are minimalized or shown as bad people.  Bad man #1 is Francesís husband, whom we never see. He cheats on her, resulting in a divorce.  Worse, she was supporting him while he was "studying," so he gets support, resulting in a deal where he gets her house, even though his cheating caused the divorce.  This is a direct departure from the book in which Frances is happily involved in a heterosexual relationship when she buys the villa. Further, the original story line of the film had Frances as an attorney who quit her job to avoid the pressure and took a trip to Europe with no mention of a divorce. But if thereís no husband and no divorce, thereís no bad man.  Ergo, husband plus divorce equals bad man. Bad Man #2 is a writer who gets revenge on Frances for a bad review of his book by confronting her at a party and telling her of her husbandís infidelity. Bad man #3 is Francesís lawyer, a man played by a guy who looks exactly like Jeffrey Tambor, best known as the egotistical, unlikable sidekick, Hank Kingsley, on The Larry Sanders Show (1992-98). He is equally unlikable here (do you think maybe thatís why he was cast, because heís created an unlikable persona?), and is unsympathetic and of no help to Frances. (Mysteriously, Tambor is not listed as being in the movie, nor does the official Under the Tuscan Sun website mention Tambor or any character playing Francesís lawyer). Bad man #4: Frances has a love affair in Italy and the guy turns out to be a two-timing creep. 

 Second, it attempts to normalize lesbian parenthood.  Without any comment whatever, Patti (Sandra Oh), Francesís best friend, is in a lesbian relationship and is pregnant.  How she got that way is never explained.  A man is apparently irrelevant.  A father is apparently unnecessary.  For two women to have a baby with no father is presented as an acceptable life style. 

 Third, there are two teenagers ďin love,Ē even though theyíve apparently only known each other for a short period.  The parents of the young woman have what I think is the correct attitude; the guy, an itinerant foreign laborer with no education, is not a good prospect for their beloved daughter so they are opposed to the marriage.  But the parents are shown as unreasonable, obstinate people. Frances intercedes, lies that the guy is a part of her family, and, solely because of the opinion of this American stranger and his performance in a flag-throwing contest, the parents cave in and allow the marriage.  How preposterous!

 From my point of view all of these subservient lines are offensive and could have been omitted without changing the basic plot.  Iím sure that Gloria Steinem and Ellen DeGeneres will enjoy this more than I did.

  Under The Tuscan Sun would have been much more entertaining without the attitude and with some intelligence and realism. As it is, itís just a travelogue with some nice shots of Diane Lane thrown in. It makes one yearn for a trifle like Rome Adventure.

 September 26, 2003

 The End