leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh
Diane Lane's glowing performance is the best thing about this trite romantic drama, in which an unhappy divorcee finds her bliss in a crumbling Tuscan villa. Beautiful, accomplished, home-loving writer and literature professor Frances (Lane) gets a rude awakening when she learns her husband, whom she's been supporting, is having an affair. Worse, he demands alimony and half the marital assets assets Frances paid for while he was tomcatting around rather than working on his book and California's no-fault divorce and community-property laws leave her no legal recourse. Devastated, she moves into a rundown apartment building and is, her best friend Patti (Sandra Oh) worries, in danger of becoming a hollow shell of the vibrant woman she once was. But the newly pregnant Patti and her girlfriend have a solution: They send Frances in their stead on a gay tour of Tuscany, where she falls in love with a picturesque villa called Bramsole "something that yearns for the sun." Frances impulsively buys the place, and as she or rather, her contractors gradually restore Bramsole, Frances begins rebuilding her broken life. She cooks elaborate feasts for the work crew, displaced Poles as lonely as she is, and gradually befriends her neighbors. She hobnobs with eccentric Katherine (Lindsay Duncan), a fading English beauty who favors extravagant hats, more extravagant pronouncements and once worked with Federico Fellini, and has a brief but invigorating affair with Marcello (Raoul Bova). By the time the abandoned and hugely pregnant Patti turns up on her door, Frances has begun to blossom like the vivid sunflowers that dot the countryside. Though based on Frances Mayes's bestselling memoir, writer-director Audrey Wells's screenplay takes considerable liberties in the service of making an authentic experience conform to Hollywood's artificial rules of dramaturgy. Significant alterations include Frances's traumatic divorce and subsequent romantic desperation (in real life, she renovated Bramsole with her husband) and the creation of Katherine, who pops in regularly to dispense advice and clarify the movie's themes for anyone who didn't catch them. Unfortunately, rather than converting messy, real-life experience into slick, formulaic entertainment, Well's script transforms it into a shapeless, internally inconsistent mess of artificial contrivances. Next to Lane and the lovely scenery, the stringent Sandra Oh is by far the best reason to sit through this unfortunate misfire: To hear her pronounce Tuscany's picturesque cypresses "creepy Italian trees" is to wish she'd arrived at Bramsole sooner.