Making the Grades
Location, location, location! The old real estate adage works as well for movies as it does for homebuyers. After seeing countless scripts showcase California's palm-lined streets or inner city, it's nice to have a change of scenery.
Filmed in picturesque Italian localities, Under the Tuscan Sun is full of vibrant colors, stunning backgrounds and intriguing faces unfamiliar to North American audiences. Infused with the rich flavor of this culture, the movie is as much a feast for the eyes as anything else. However for the fictional character of Frances Mayes (Diane Lane), the warm climate and ancient vineyards are more than pretty surroundings. They offer an escape from her collapsing world.
Abandoned by her husband for a younger woman, the literary professor sinks into a despair that keeps her from writing or really living. Holed up in a cheap, San Francisco rental apartment, she wallows in the unhappiness of her current circumstances along with the rest of the cast-offs that live under the same roof. Worried about her listless existence and growing lack of drive, her friends (Sandra Oh, Kate Walsh) finally persuade the straight divorcee to take their tickets for a gay tour of romantic Tuscany. There, while rumbling along the dusty back roads of the countryside in a wildly painted bus, she is drawn to Bramasole, an old villa whose crumbling walls seem to echo her own hopeless state of affairs. Almost without thinking, she makes an offer to the aging home vendor. Soon she is the new owner and sole occupant of the vine covered country cottage.
Assisted by Mr. Martini (Vincent Riotta), the local real estate agent, Frances hires a crew of Polish immigrant workers to help restore her purchase. Overcoming language barriers and diversities, she helps the men hack away at the aging plaster and chipped tiles while earning her place in the social structure of the tiny village. But as she falls in love with her new locale and a certain handsome native (Raoul Bova), Frances discovers that she isn't the only person happiness has seemingly closed the door on when an old friend shows up on her threshold.
Aimed largely at an adult female audience, there are several issues for younger family members who might want to tag along. The biggest concern is the casual approach to sex. Teen characters sneak away to consummate a relationship her parents are opposed to, an aging woman does more than flirt with a young art student dressed in a thong and adult characters offer themselves to people they've barely met. While long term relationships often appear unsuccessful in this film, that hardly justifies the "jump into bed with a stranger" alternative. The ample use of profanities and alcohol are also a problem in this script based loosely on a book by author Frances Mayes.
While Frances discovers that life dishes up an assortment of challenges to everyone, the recipe for finding joy is a personal blend of dreams, work and taking chances. It doesn't require an exotic location or even a warm sun to make that happen. Often it just takes more looking out than looking in to see where the possibilities for happiness lie.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Under the Tuscan Sun.
How does Frances age compare with the men in her life? What statement might the director be making by including those differences? What challenges or advantages do dissimilar ages play in a relationship?
Was Frances denying her problems and running away from them while seeking refuge in an exotic land? Or was she taking the opportunity to make something better of her life after facing a painful experience? Did she find the happiness she was seeking?
How accurate are the depictions of Italian men and American women in this film? Do they promote stereotypes or reality?