Buying a rundown villa/vineyard/farm/orchard in Italy/France/Spain has become the best selling cliche of the publishing world. What more is there to say, other than uplifting/challenging/life-enhancing/romantic?
Writer/director Audrey Wells has adapted Frances Mayes’s love-is-a-seven-letter-word eulogy to all things Italiano for the screen and made a few changes, not all of which are improvements.
Diane Lane plays Frances, which, after her triumph in Unfaithful, sounds like perfecto castissimo. As the victim of a sudden, agonising divorce, she mopes around New York, feeling sorry for herself and having no sex.
“I think you are in danger of never recovering,” she is told and it’s true. Also, Lane appears uncomfortable with comedy, not that Wells provides a huge amount beyond the statutory walls-fall-down dodgy builder’s routine.
“Have you met him yet?” her best friend Patti (Sandra Oh) asks.
“Who?” Frances replies.
“The guy you’re going to meet.”
Patti has the witty lines. She’s a pregnant lesbian, which sounds funny for a start, and infinitely more entertaining than boring old Frances who bleeds profusely over the corpse of her life.
After doing the whim thing and buying a rundown villa in a Tuscan picture postcard, Frances has to renovate it – enter screen left a trio of Polish odd-job men. Being in Italia and not taking advantage of the national indoor sport feels like a crime of the heart. After a chance meeting in the streets of Rome, a restaurant owner from Positano (Raoul Bova) tells Frances, “I am going to make love all over you.” That cheers her up.
The film follows the dotted lines. Even the introduction of a fictitious character, called Katherine (Lindsay Duncan), who once acted for Dahling Federico and has never forgotten it, seems nothing more than an excuse to add much needed eccentricity to the script.
Half the point of the T word is scenery and so there are luscious views of soft rolling hills and acres of butter coloured sunflowers. A baby owl takes up residence in Frances’s bedroom (so sweet) and she adopts a stray kitten (ditto) that doesn’t whine, scratch or piss on the carpet.
Not unlike Kate Hudson in Le Divorce, Frances’s North American naivete grates against the ease and charm of Tuscany. If she had Patti’s spirit and Katherine’s style, Lane might have had a ball. As it is, she plays up to the pain of emotional betrayal (“It doesn’t actually kill you,” Patti reminds her) and looks bemused at cultural differences.
It’s a sense of humour failure that finally sinks the movie. If Patti had taken the gay tour of Europe, instead of giving her ticket to Frances as a get-well-soon present, things might have been hotter, funnier and less concerned with real estate.