A beautifully filmed adaptation of the book by Frances Mayes, "Under the Tuscan Sun" isn't a fantastic film, but it's an enjoyable one, helped along by a fine performance by Diane Lane. Lane plays a San Francisco writer named Francis Mayes, who finds out one day that her husband is cheating on her and wants a divorce. Her friend (Sandra Oh) believes that she should get away for a while and ends up booking her on a trip to Italy.
Once Frances sets foot in Italy and gazes onto a run-down, 300-year-old Tuscan villa, she decides that she's not coming home - instead, she puts all of her focus (and funds) on trying to spruce up her new place, which she only got due to the fact that the countess who owned the place wanted a "sign" and got one when a pigeon poops on Frances's head.
I've never read the book, but I found the story of Francis trying to find herself in another country to be quite involving, thanks to a sympathetic and compelling performance from Diane Lane. However, one can surely expect that the story can't simply involve just that as, unfortunately, this is a chick flick. Of course, there's a romance for Frances in the form of Marcello (Raoul Bova) and other subplots, such as Frances's friend deciding to have her baby in Tuscany and Frances's matchmaking.
The third film by writer/director Audrey Wells ("The Truth About Cats and Dogs" and "Guinevere"), "Under the Tuscan Sun" pulls together a few fine performances from the cast, but this is mostly Lane's film, and she gives a fun, natural performance. Wells has also brought together an excellent crew, including Australian cinematographer Geoffrey Simpson ("Shine"), composer Christoph Beck and production designer Steven McCabe (who worked with Wells on "Guinevere"). Beck's score is particularly pleasant and unforced, adding to scenes rather than underlining them. The film's pacing could have been less deliberate (10 minutes could have been lost), but I was never too bored.
Overall, this was a light, enjoyable feature that was a little long in spots and rather forgettable, but generally well-acted and likable, with some beautiful cinematography and locations.
VIDEO: "Under the Tuscan Sun" is presented by Buena Vista in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is a gorgeous film and thankfully, the DVD is able to recreate the film's postcard-perfect scenery on the small screen pretty well. Sharpness and detail are terrific, as the picture appeared crisp and well-defined at all times.
Certainly the most important aspect of presenting this film would be the color palette, and the DVD does a fine job of it. The film's rich, vivid color palette appeared well-saturated and vibrant throughout, with no smearing or other faults.
Some minor issues appeared, but they really didn't get in the way of the presentation very much. Some light edge enhancement was occasionally spotted, as were a couple of tiny compression artifacts. The print seemed largely in fine condition, with only a little bit of light, soft grain and a speck or two.
SOUND: "Under the Tuscan Sun" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. As expected from a largely dialogue-driven comedy/drama, this is a front-heavy soundtrack, with only a few instances of surround use (a particularly sweet sounding thunderstorm). The soundtrack does provide some light ambience on occasion and spread of the score aross the front speakers, but the soundtrack is otherwise pretty uneventful. Dialogue remains clean and clear throughout, sounding well-recorded and without issue.
EXTRAS: An informative, low-key commentary from screenwriter/director Audrey Wells is offered. Wells covers a weath of topics, from trying to create a loose adaptation of the novel that managed to still gain the author's approval, working with the actors and crew, shooting on locations in Italy and trying to select costumes and sets.
Unfortunately, the DVD doesn't include much else. 3 deleted scenes are presented (w/o any optional commentary), as well as a brief (9-minute) promotional featurette on the making of the film. Some promos for other Touchstone/Buena Vista titles play upon start-up (but one can click the menu button to skip them).
Final Thoughts: A pleasant but forgettable romantic comedy/drama, "Under the Tuscan Sun" offers a fine performance from Diane Lane and plenty of impressive scenery. Buena Vista's DVD edition provides very good video, fine audio and a few decent supplemental features. Recommended as a rental, but will probably be a fairly popular Valentine's day gift.
The Film ***