After getting over the initial shock that any man would be crazy enough to divorce the lovely Diane Lane, 'Under the Tuscan Sun' turns out to be an enjoyable film about self-discovery and taking a chance on simply living life rather than trying to control it. Of course, the story based on the memoirs of Frances Mayes and adapted by Audrey Wells, who also directs, follows a very familiar romcom formula for achieving such generic life-affirming messages. This can be seen as a drawback for many, but for others paying close enough attention, that is only the outer shell for driving the plot. The formula is there because it's both a trait and a fault within the protagonist, making the journey all the more intriguing for cleverly wanting to undo such a burdening flaw.
Part of how Wells overcomes the script's formulaic plotline is not by having her character, Frances (Lane), outright rejecting love, as is typical of the genre. In fact, she seems very open to the possibilities and welcomes them with a kind of abandonment that can at times be rather foolish. When best friend Patti (Sandra Oh) encourages Frances to take her place in a gay tour to Tuscany, she accepts the offer because she doesn't want to be like her wailing neighbor in a studio apartment building only occupied by other divorcees. Buying a rundown villa in Cortona on an unexpected whim is part of that hope to create a change in her life — as well as setting up several good comedic moments with a renovation crew of Polish immigrants (Pawel Szajda, Valentine Pelka and Sasa Vulicevic).
Filmmakers further rise above genre expectations by filling the screen with striking cinematography of the Tuscan countryside and introducing some of the locals, including an aging British actress (Lindsay Duncan) who's succumbed to the amorousness nature of the country as well as perhaps a bit of her own delusions. Geoffrey Simpson's photography offers gorgeous landscape views of Frances's new home and the surrounding village, along with postcard sceneries of Rome and the stunning beaches of Positano. These scenes create an attractive air of romance that feels natural to the area and function as a mild visual travelogue audiences can enjoy in spite of the story's somewhat generic feel. Not only does Frances find herself easily swept away by the region's romantic charm, but so do a pair of ardently passionate teens wanting to marry.
What ultimately makes the entire film work is the lovely Diane Lane as the newly-divorced author and book critic who's lost all creative thought. Unlike her unflattering review of one writer's novel, Lane's Frances is very much a believable character, devastated by a marriage she thought was perfect and making rash, life-altering decisions. There's a desire within the movie to carry us away and immerse viewers into Italy's adventurous countryside, and if not for Lane's performance, the chances of that happening are minimal. While things seem to happen for others around her, Frances remains at the center as both witness and participant. We, too, take part in her journey thanks to Lane's likeability and a slight kinship with the character's craving for something more out of life.
Granted, much of this personal journey is overflowing with a variety of optimistic idioms and dialogue that moves the story from one situation to the next and meant for an eventual happenstance conclusion. It can get a bit roll of the eyes corny at times — something to do with trains in the Alps and lady bugs crawling all over one's body — but there's also something amusing in the way actors deliver those lines which makes them worth hearing. Besides, in a feel-good romantic comedy such as this one, it's the sort of language you expect going into it. Moreover, we can make twist the ending into some sort of Nietzschean philosophy if we're so bold (and thankfully, I am). All those clever expressions coming together at the end do well in helping Frances arrive at the much needed acceptance of the inevitable and affirming her life with the many happy moments which occur around her, instead of trying to make them happen.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment brings 'Under the Tuscan Sun' to Blu-ray on a Region Free, BD50 disc inside a blue eco-lite keepcase. At startup, viewers can sit through a series of skippable trailers, one of which is a promo the Blu-ray release of 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit?' Afterwards, a still photo fills the screen with the normal set of menu options and music.
'Under the Tuscan Sun' makes its final destination to Blu-ray with an attractive and often eye-catching 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode. The 1.85:1 picture frame beautifully captures the Tuscan countryside with great definition of the surrounding vegetation and exposing the smallest imperfection around the rundown villa. There are a few noticeably softer scenes with slightly poor resolution sprinkled about, but it's not much of a nuisance or distraction. When the transfer looks good, it really looks good, which more than makes up for its minor flaws. Contrast is spot-on and well-balanced while blacks are true with excellent shadow detailing during darker interiors. Colors are particularly bright with bold primaries providing the image lots of energy. Given the scenery and photography, we could have expected a bit better, but as it is, the high-def presentation is still quite lovely and satisfying.
The audio, on the other hand, makes a slightly stronger impression, especially when the surrounds are used in several areas. Much of the time, back speakers deliver excellent discrete effects which generate a charming ambience. It isn't quite as consistent as I'd like, but many of the outdoors sequences benefit from it. One scene, in particular, features a thunder storm that's immersive and convincingly terrifying, filling the room with some wall-rattling LFE. The rest of DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is reserved primarily for the music, which enjoys a terrifically wide and spacious soundstage. The mid-range is clean and sharply detailed with excellent bass throughout, providing some very persuasive oomph and fidelity. Dialogue is precise and pitch-perfect in the center of the screen, making this lossless mix a great one for a romantic dramedy.
The same set of special features are carried over from the DVD.
Based on the memoir of Frances Mayes's move to Italy after a devastating divorce, 'Under the Tuscan Sun' is an amusing and inspiring story about self-discovery and enjoying life as it happens. Although it carries a familiar air of the romcom, the film surprises by not strictly adhering to the rules of the genre and is all the better by a wonderful performance from Diane Lane. The Blu-ray arrives with upgraded video but won't likely impress as much as the lossless audio. Supplements are the same as on previous releases, and they fall on the trivial side. All things considered, it makes a great purchase for fans and those dreaming of someday visiting the beautifully romantic Tuscan countryside.