Monday, April 21, 2014

Under the Tuscan Sun


I have had a chance to read the treatment for the proposed musical version of The Satanic Verses and have decided that it's just not the project for me. It seems to take place predominantly in some third world country and I just don't think my nerves could take a long location shoot after some of the upsets of the last few months. It's impossible to get good take-out and the cable movie choices leave so much to be desired. Besides, the part I was being offered, a symbolic figure of fatwa, only had one costume change indicated. Joseph, my manager has been instructed to come up with a more suitable property.

In the meantime, I've been enjoying some down time at Chateau Maine; Tommy, my new therapist, has a primal scream technique that's done in a mud bath which seems to be doing wonders for my vocal abilities. I feel a new album coming on. Maybe something to compete with Babs's new Hollywood album - after all, she's an arriviste compared to me. I also supervised redecoration of the guest suite into a new decorative style that I like to call Trojan fantasy, complete with a mural on the ceiling with me as Helen during the sack of Troy. The work went quickly, but the workmen seemed very uncomfortable in the house. Something about el Diablo and their tools moving around. I didn't quite catch it all.

Anyway, following a nice facial, Tommy and I headed off to the Cineplex for a film and decided that a feel good movie with lovely scenery might be just the thing for a matinee. We settled upon Under the Tuscan Sun with Diane Lane, starring as real life authoress Frances Mayes who left San Francisco some years ago for an Italian villa with severe plumbing problems and no central heating. Frances's adventure led to her writing one of those charming little volumes that's chock full of atmosphere and quaint foreign climes. It's lovely, but in terms of the visual medium of film, it couldn't be adapted to more than a series of picture postcards engraved 'Views of Tuscany'.

Writer/director Audrey Wells kept the title and the setting and created a whole new fictional plot and various Italian characters straight out of other, better films in order to actually create a cinematic story. So readers of the book would not be confused, there's a helpful end credit acknowledging that this is a 'fictionalization' of the memoir and it was apparently done with Frances Mayes' blessing. In this version, Frances Mayes (Diane Lane), is an author and literary critic in San Francisco; as the film opens, she discovers her husband's infidelity, divorces him, and her life enters a tailspin. Her rock through this period is her lesbian best friend, Patti (Sandra Oh in one of her patented sardonic performances); when Patti becomes pregnant, she and her lover decide not to take their planned gay tour of romantic Tuscany and give the tickets to Frances as a getaway; they figure she can't get into any trouble on a gay tour.

Frances and a bus load of queeny day players roll through perfect Italian landscapes and in the hill town of Cortona, she sees a charming, but run down little villa. On a whim, she abandons the tour, takes her money from the sale of her San Francisco house and soon is rehabbing a centuries old palazzo with the help of an eccentric cast of Polish émigrés. This leads to a series of picturesque adventures involving an eccentric British actress (Lindsay Duncan in a series of picture hats), a ravishing young lothario from the even more ravishing seaside town of Positano (Raoul Bova), an internet romancing granny (Evelina Gori), and a romance between the youngest and most adorable Polish laborer (Pawel Szadja) and a local girl (Giulia Steigerwalt). Pretty soon, the pregnant lesbian shows up to complete the festivities.

The photography of fields of flowers, Mediterranean coastlines, Florentine tourist sites, and mountains of food is yummy. You want to race right out and book the first flight to the Apennines. Diane Lane is also scrumptious. How that woman manages to maintain that luminous skin and lovely eyes through decade after decade beats me. I shall have to ask her to impart a few tips to the makers of Lesterene brand cosmetics. She's the center of the film and seems to be having a rollicking good time, whether she's wearing a ravishing white dress on the back of a Vespa or sliding down a muddy hillside on her tush. Sandra Oh also brings some acerbic bite to her scenes and a little crackle into the first and last sections of the film.

While the supporting cast are all fine in their roles, they're never really allowed to be more than props in warmed over 'fish out of water' clichés or as quaint local color so we can get some footage of another cheerful festival, usually involving a parading Madonna or a bunch of youths in tights throwing flags at each other. The film ultimately just meanders from one episodic happening to another. Consequently, we fail to care. Some of the cast, Lindsay Duncan especially, are good enough to make their interludes work. Her riff on the fountain scene from La Dolce Vita is very nice, but it's not anchored to anything else so it becomes Much Ado About Nothing, without Emma Thompson.

The film is pleasant, but not earth shattering. It's a nice matinee and lovely to look at, but will be forgotten a day or two later.

Chocolate cake eating. Mystery spigot. Gratuitous Polish sex. Gratuitous Italian sex. Washing machine electrocution. Gorgeous aquamarine waters. Metaphorical alpine train. Asian baby. Naked draped Lindsay Duncan. Naked draped Raoul Bova. Fields of sunflowers. Fields of poppies. Gratuitous handsome strange writer. Grumpy old man.

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