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Review: Catch some 'Tuscan Sun'

Movie has beautiful vistas, beautiful performance by Lane

By Paul Clinton
CNN Reviewer

Diane Lane in "Under the Tuscan Sun."

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(CNN) -- Going to see "Under The Tuscan Sun," starring Diane Lane, is the next best thing to actually traveling to that glorious, sun-drenched part of northern Italy.

In the movie, loosely based on the bestseller by Frances Mayes, Lane stars as Frances, a newly divorced American writer who, while on a 10-day vacation in Italy, decides on a whim to start a new life in a broken-down villa in a small village in Tuscany. The villa is named "Bramasole," which translates into "something that yearns for the sun." The phrase mirrors Frances' condition as she seeks a fresh start.

This lovingly shot, intensely romantic film is really about second chances, and at one point Frances proclaims, "Unthinkable good things can happen -- even late in the game. It's such a surprise." What is not a surprise is Lane's strong, well-measured performance. This Academy Award-nominated actress has been acting since she was a child, but is just now hitting her stride artistically at age 38.

Sandra Oh (perhaps best known for her role on the HBO sitcom "Arliss") plays Frances' best friend Patti, a pregnant lesbian who has just been jilted by her longtime lover. It's Patti who persuades Frances to go to Italy in the first place, and by the middle of the film she ends up joining Frances on her search for a new life.

New friends, good times

Tuscan Sun
Lane's character develops a relationship with an Italian played by Raoul Bova.

As Frances throws herself into the local culture and the restoration of her ancient home, she's surrounded by new friends, including a merry group of Polish workers whom she hires to fix up the falling-down villa. One of her more colorful new acquaintances is Katherine (played by Lindsay Duncan), an expatriate American actress who lives the life of an utter hedonist as she recalls her days acting for legendary Italian director Federico Fellini.

Other locals who embrace the lonely American are Signor Martini (Vincent Riotta), a kindly realtor who helps her buy the villa, and a young girl, Chiara (Giulia Steigerwalt). Chiara helps renew Frances' belief in love when she falls for one of Frances' Polish workers, and Frances finds herself becoming the young couple's champion when her family disapproves of the match.

Of course, there has to be a gorgeous Italian lover for Frances at some point in the story, and actor Raoul Bova fills that role as the drop-dead-handsome Marcello, who she meets by chance on a trip to Rome.

The film, wisely, avoids a number of romantic cliches. It ends on a sweet and hopeful note, but everything -- thankfully -- isn't tied up in a nice bow at the end.

Saying yes

Tuscan Sun
Three women -- Sandra Oh, Kate Walsh and Lane -- raise a glass to themselves in "Under the Tuscan Sun."

The movie of "Under The Tuscan Sun" differs in a number of respects from Mayes' book. In the movie, Frances is divorced, rather than happily married like her real-life counterpart, and the theme becomes one of overcoming heartbreak and the belief that life comes with second chances. The original book was more of a travelogue; the movie, on the other hand, benefits from Wells infusing the screenplay with a wonderful dramatic arc.

Like a thirsty garden after a summer rain, Lane's character blooms as she sheds her old fears and her self-imposed limitations.

In a climactic scene between Frances and Signor Martini, she says, "I bought a house for a life I don't even have."

"So why did you do it then?" he asks.

"Because I'm sick of being afraid all the time," she replies.

This beautifully crafted film is about saying yes -- and continuing to say yes -- to new experiences, despite the chances for failure. The result is that Frances finds a whole new life. It's not the one that she expected, not the one she would have planned, but a wonderful new life nevertheless.

"Under The Tuscan Sun" opens nationwide on Friday, September 26, and is rated PG-13.

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