Plot: What’s it about?
After the sultry character she played in Unfaithful, it was time for a change for Diane Lane. Nominated for an Academy Award for her that role, her stock went up a few points and it was onward to a different kind of movie. As luck would have it, Under the Tuscan Sun was just that movie. While not as steamy and seductive, the movie has its share of sex, sex appeal and enough Italian stereotypes to more than occupy the running time. Based on the book “Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy”, it was adapted for the screen and directed by Audrey Wells with only one previous directing credit: “Guinevere”. The role gave Lane a chance to showcase more of her acting ability than those purely written for her body (though she shows that here as well); and she was even nominated for a Golden Globe for her role here. All that aside, some might consider this another “chick flick”, I certainly did. And they might be right, but the film isn’t without its charm.
Lane plays Frances, a writer and book critic in San Francisco. Together with her two friends, both of which are lesbians, she seems to have a fairly happy and normal life. While at a party, though, a disgruntled author suggests to her that her husband might be having an affair. Sure enough, the next scene shows her in her lawyer’s office trying to divide up the house and all of her possessions. During her course of rebuilding, she moves into a stressful furnished apartment (she only took three boxes of her possessions, leaving the rest for her husband) complex. After hearing her neighbor weep at his situation, divorced, she is offered a trip to Italy from her friends. The trip is guaranteed to be stress free as it’s a “gay” trip, everyone is already in couples or certainly not interested. She quickly finds a nice little house (that, conveniently enough needs a lot of work) and after chasing off some prospective buyers and a sign from above (literally); the house is all hers. Now this is all predictable and it could have been a lot worse. She employs illegal immigrants from Poland to help her rebuild the place, she gets sage advice from Katherine (Lindsay Duncan) who seems to be there just because the movie deems it; and she even meets the stereotypical Italian male who shows her a long overdue night of passion.
While trying to avoid the obvious traps and pratfalls of a “chick flick”, this succeeds on several levels. While it may be obvious that this is a follow-up to Lane’s great performance in Unfaithful, I can’t really say that I can picture another woman in the role. Aside from being a great, and attractive, actress, she actually has the ability to command a performance all on her own. There are several background characters in the film, though she stands out as the one we really care about. While I’m sure that many women can identify with what she has been through, it’s a story of not building but re-building. While the movie manages to tie up a lot of loose ends, we don’t get that satisfaction with Frances. That’s not to say that things aren’t left to the imagination, but the film avoids the obvious compromise of everything ending up all neat and tidy. Call it what you will, but for you men out there, it couldn’t hurt to see this one with a date (or wife) and, well, women will probably see it if they’ve even remotely heard of the book. And I’m sure most of them have.
Video: How does it look?
I remember watching this on standard DVD when it first came out and being impressed but not that impressed. Nearly a decade has passed since I last watched this film and with it being on Blu-ray I was excited to see what, if any, improvements were in store. The 1.85:1 AVC HD image certainly improves upon its DVD counterpart, but not by a whole lot. If I could think of one word that describes this image it would be inconsistent. That’s not to say that it looks bad by any stretch, it’s just that some of the scenes look downright stunning and others are average at best. The Tuscan landscape makes for some of the film’s more delightful scenes and contrasted with the interior shots, pale in comparison. Detail has been improved and contrast looks to be solid. Overall it looks better, but it’s still not the transfer that we were hoping for.
Audio: How does it sound?
This Blu-ray also features a new DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack that, for the most part, serves its purpose. Romantic comedies aren’t really known for their audio and this is certainly no exception. Dialogue is clean and well-balanced free of any distortion and while the front stage handles the majority of the “work”, the surrounds do come into play at a few times during the film. Admittedly, there is a scene with a thunderstorm and it does sound quite immersive. So the movie has its moments where the audio is concerned, but they’re few and far between. Like the video, the audio is good but not great.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Disney hasn’t re-invented the wheel here as all of the same supplements previously available on the DVD from 2003 are merely ported over. We have a trio of deleted scenes that are shown in non-anamorphic widescreen that don’t really offer a lot more to the story. In other words, it’s clear why these were left on the cutting room floor. A featurette “Tuscany 101” is actually a clever way of labeling the standard “Making of…” featurette. Interviews with Land and the rest of the folks involved get you psyched to see the movie (or if you’ve seen it, psyched to think about the movie you just saw. No real substance here, but better to have than have not! Lastly, we get a pretty good commentary track with Director/Writer Audrey Welles. Being the Screenwriter and Director, Wells has a vast knowledge of the material and the atmosphere in general. She delivers a pretty good commentary track telling us tidbits about the shoot and the actors. While not a lot of information was gained here (she seems to like to admire her work), there are some dead spots; but all in all a pretty good track.