So, it's the month of love and you want to set up a romantic evening with your significant other. Perhaps a good romantic comedy would set the mood just right, but you don't want the same, run-of-the-mill story you've already seen a thousand times. If this is the case, then Under the Tuscan Sun might be the film for you.
Under the Tuscan Sun is definitely not your average romantic comedy, even if it does share a number of the same themes. The film's quirky nature and alternative structure goes against the norm, which is exactly where it gets its charm. Diane Lane is Frances, a struggling writer who, after a divorce, takes a huge risk (at least as far as her normal life is concerned) by flying off to Venice and buying a villa. Already it's taken on several aspects of the typical romantic comedy, but things become different when you realize she doesn't immediately meet the man of her dreams.
Instead, she meets a number of interesting characters that help her learn that a second chance doesn't always mean meeting someone new. Instead, it might simply mean rediscovering yourself. Sure, it's as sappy as it sounds. However, writer/director Audrey Wells manages to bring the characters to life and adds some flair to the story. Just enough, in fact, to make it interesting and funny while maintaining the warmth you'd expected in the genre.
That's not to say this charming movie is a flawless example of the romantic comedy. The offbeat structure is definitely a plus, but it also hampers the story at times. Although I ended up liking most of the zany characters, some seemed to be offbeat just to add variety to the mix, while some of the dialog seemed unrealistic at best. For example, Lindsay Duncan plays Katherine, an odd if not downright loony British woman who is full of wisdom. At times, too much wisdom. The character is definitely fun, but too often she appears right when Frances needs some advice to not only help her in her travels, but also to move the plot from point A to point B.
Under the Tuscan Sun is an entertaining film both because of and despite its alternative take on the romantic comedy. Although some movie-goers will find the metaphors (such as the remodeling of her house in step with the remodeling of her own life) to be too sweet and too obvious, others will enjoy the warmth and cuteness they bring to the table. With that in mind, Under the Tuscan Sun is definitely not for everyone. But for those interested in a different take on romance, it might be the ticket.
Touchstone Pictures presents Under the Tuscan Sun in 1.85 anamorphic widescreen. This isn't a great transfer, but it's at least adequate. Colors are very vibrant. The Venice culture looks fabulous as the yellows and browns truly stand out. The detail is slightly subpar as the picture lacks the crispness I was expecting from a film released no more than a year ago (summer of 2003). It's not particularly distracting, but it's noticeable if you're looking for a highly-detailed print. I noticed no compression problems, and thus consider this an average transfer.
Where the video didn't please me as much as I anticipated, the 5.1 Dolby Digital audio track certainly did. Dialog is definitely crisp and well placed. What surprised me was the rear channel usage. A number of scenes incorporated these to truly set the audience in the scene, and the general ambiance continued to impress me throughout the picture. It's a quieter, dialog driven film, so don't expect a serious speaker workout, but for this type of film, it's a wonderful audio presentation.
The DVD also includes a French Dolby 2.0 surround dub, Spanish subtitles, and English Closed Captions.
THE BONUS FEATURES
There's not all that much in the way of special features on the Under the Tuscan Sun disc, but I wasn't expecting much. First off is the screen-specific audio commentary by writer/director Audrey Wells. She is very energetic and is obviously having fun with the commentary, but it's based more on the production of the film rather than a possibly more enjoyable dissection of key elements in the story. It's not a bad commentary by any means, but it's nothing new or exciting either.
Other than that, you get three short deleted scenes, none of which would've helped the final version of the film in any way, and a small featurette entitled Tuscany 101. This 10-minute short feature is nothing more than talking heads and clips from the film, but does a good job of pointing out important themes that run through the story.
Rounding out the special features are several trailers:Hidalgo, Calendar Girls, My Boss's Daughter, Under the Tuscan Sun, and the Soap Network.
Under the Tuscan Sun is an entertaining film that bucks the romantic comedy trend by focusing on the surrounding cast instead of the typical boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy meets girl again structure. The quirky nature of the film is not for everyone, making it a risky blind buy. However, if you're in the mood for a light story filled with heart, it's definitely worth a rental.