Are you desperate to get away and travel the world? Stuck in the house due to lockdowns? Then you need to take a trip via the movies. This week on ‘To Touchstone and Beyond’ settle down for an Italian vacation with Diane Lane in the 2003 film, Under the Tuscan Sun. By the time the credits role, you’ll feel like you’ve just come back from the Italian countryside.

The Movie

Frances, played by Diane Lane, is a successful book reviewer living in San Francisco whose world comes crashing down once she learns her husband is cheating on her. The divorce forces Frances out of her home while her husband starts a new life with his girlfriend. Living in a furnished singles apartment, Frances is left to contemplate her life, while surrounded by people who are wallowing in their own misery.

Thanks to her friend Patti, played by Sandra Oh, Frances takes a trip to Tuscany, and never looks back. While at a quick stop in a town, Frances reads an ad for the Bramasole villa. Tempted by the idea of never going back home, and being dared by a local woman named Katherine, played by Lindsay Duncan, Frances pushes the idea from her mind and boards the tour bus.

An unexpected stop in front of Bramasole, convinces Frances this is her moment and seizes the opportunity. Leaving the tour, she walks into the estate and with some divine poop from a pigeon, Frances purchases the run-down estate.

Now settled in Tuscany, Frances begins to rebuild her life. After developing a friendship with Martini, played by Vincent Riotta, Frances hires, with his assistance, a Polish contingent of contractors to bring new life into the old Bramasole estate. As time goes by, Frances becomes part of the community life.

She has formed a lasting friendship with Katherine and the contractors. One of the workers named Pawel, played by Pawel Szajda, becomes a defacto little brother/son to Frances. Martini is a supporting friend who regularly looks in on Frances and ensures she is doing well, helping her to come out of the misery of her divorce.

Feeling confident because of her new life, Frances takes a trip to Rome to look for antiques for the estate and meets Marcello, played by Raoul Boval. Charmed by Marcello, she goes away with him for the evening and has an affair. Returning to Bramasole, Frances dives back into the work of restoring the estate.

As events continue to unfold, from helping Pawel with his relationship with a local girl or nursing the recently arrived and pregnant Patti through the heartbreak of her own breakup, Frances continues to change. Though her and Marcello don’t connect again until it is too late, Frances is a far different person than when she arrived in Italy.

Single again, but with a rebuilt villa in Tuscany, Frances is shining in the sunlight at Pawel’s wedding, which she hosted at the estate, when a chance encounter will change her life forever.

The Best

Under the Tuscan Sun pays tribute to the title location. The movie does not spare on wonderful shots of Italy, from the narrow streets of village life, to the wide shots of the coast, when you watch this movie, you will feel like you have taken a short trip to Italy. Audrey Wells has done a wonderful job in making viewers feel like they are on the journey with Frances. From experiencing the confinement of the tour bus, to walking through the olive groves during the harvest, Under the Tuscan Sun has everything anyone looking for an escape would want.

Diane Lane’s portrayal of Frances is what holds this film together. She walks a fine balance of being shattered and hopeful. To say that Frances’ world is destroyed from her divorce is an understatement. When she buys Bramasole, Frances knows that this is a crazy idea, but she has nothing left at home and must work to break out of her misery. A viewer can empathize with Lane’s portrayal, root for her success, and not be tired of the sad personality that Frances has for much of the film. Diane Lane is authentic and easy to connect with in her role, and that’s what makes Frances so likeable.

Vincent Riotta is a gem as Martini. From the first moment when Frances stumbles into Bramasole and interacts with Martini trying to close the deal with a German couple, Martini projects a trusted vibe that never falters throughout the film. The fact that he continues to check in on Frances and befriends her as she settles into Bramasole might lead to a possible romantic relationship, but it doesn’t. Martini is a good man, who has compassion for everyone. He wants the best for Frances, but he loves his wife and family. Wading into the fountain to help Katherine out from one of her drunken escapades further cements the nobility of Martini. He is a gentleman, and someone you would want as your friend.

Sandra Oh makes a lot out of the limited time that Patti gets on screen. She is the force that pushes Frances to go on the trip. It is Patti’s voice inside her head talking about getting past the misery of her divorce that allows her to purchase Bramasole on a whim. It is Patti showing up heartbroken and pregnant at Bramasole that allows Frances to push past any anxiety or worry.

The Worst

Under the Tuscan Sun is formulaic. The critics at the time the film was released harped on the film’s predictability. From opening scene to the last, what you see in Under the Tuscan Sun has been seen in movies hundreds of times before.

Film Facts

  • Kate Walsh plays Sandra Oh’s significant other in a short clip at the start of the film. The two would go on to costar on Grey’s Anatomy.
  • The film is based on Frances Mayes’ book of the same name however the book and film differ greatly.
  • The movie that Frances and Pawel see is George of the Jungle. Director Audrey Wells also wrote the screenplay for that film.
  • Diane Lane received a Golden Globe nomination for her role in the film.
  • The film was shot on location throughout Italy.

See It/Skip It?

See It. Under the Tuscan Sun is that rare film that provides a beautiful backdrop that allows you to take a trip through your movie. The performances are not over the top, but subtle, and allow you to connect with the characters on your own level. Even though you will find yourself predicting what comes next, this film is charming, hopeful, and shows that even in your darkest moments, you can overcome obstacles.  

Next week, ‘To Touchstone and Beyond’ looks at the summer blockbuster season with the 1996 action blockbuster The Rock.

Director: Audrey Wells

Production Company: Touchstone Pictures

Principal Cast:

  • Diane Lane as Frances
  • Sandra Oh as Patti
  • Lindsay Duncan as Katherine
  • Raoul Bova as Marcello
  • Vincent Riotta as Martini
  • Pawel Szajda as Pawel

Release Date: September 26, 2003

Budget: $18 million

Box Office Gross Domestic = $43,610,723

                      Worldwide = $58,878,723