In this charming flick for chicks, and basically any woman seeking entertainment in the fulfilling sense, Diane Lane off her successful Oscar nominated role in “Unfaithful” takes a much lighter approach this time around with this fun-filled satisfying romp worthy of watching. Based on the book from Frances Mayes, the charming Lane plays Frances, a woman who is basically a sort of socialite around the town, but her life is basically cut down when her husband (whom we never see) divorces her, leaving her for another woman. A wreck and with no clue as to what to do next, she moves into an apartment in a divorcee complex next to a man who sobs on a nightly basis. Her friends, a lesbian couple decide to give her a trip to Italy, she refuses not ready to get into the social scene yet, but much to her surprise, it’s a gay tour.
While on the tour and running into some odd characters, she stumbles upon a broken down old Villa and takes a chance in buying it hiring an odd array of characters to build for her. But little does she know that with these characters come adventure, excitement, romance, and a new sense of self-discovery. While fodder such as this is never usually the thing to react to my stomach, this was a very entertaining film, especially with Diane Lane who is so charismatic in this role. Lane has a knack for starring in movies as really charming women especially in films like “Unfaithful” and “Walk on the Moon” and here she’s just as likable. While the woman torn down by her husband theme is a tired motivation for a plot here, it works to a good amount, despite the fact that actually seeing him might have helped. This escapist adventure film for the divorcee moves more like a woman’s fantasy as Lane considerably in the prime of her life takes a chance in spending her last dime on a broken down villa.
There’s an introduction of a lot of quirky characters and with them emerges an array of sub-plots and funny little jabs at the Italian culture. She’s a strange woman in a big city, good thing she can speak Italian. Everything works out here which is a bit naive but entertaining nonetheless. Director Audrey Wells who penned such pleasing fare as the recent critical failure “Raising Helen” and the just awful “The Kid” creates a fun, light and very airy film that won’t depress even at its more heavy moments. What’s so good about the film is despite her woes and lack of true support in life, Frances is a positive character and she never really whines. She tends to take everything in stride and in a passive aggressive nature as she comes across many characters including a large family of handymen who welcome her.
We meet a grandmother who cries every minute because she’s so sensitive, a young handyman who is in love with a young girl from another family in a sort of “Romeo and Juliet” sub plot, and a starlet named Katharine played by Lindsay Duncan who represents the sort of woman Frances would like to be, the adventurous, sexy and sophisticated woman who goes about town, however the two do become friends as Katharine seemsto take her advice hoping to gain something from her knowledge. She manages to come across yet another character, Marcello (Raoul Bova: Alien vs. Predator), a man who has an affair with Frances seeming to give her a new sense of confidence in herself, his character is very well written and appropriate for this by the numbers dramedy. The very funny Sandra Oh plays the quick-witted Patti, her lesbian friend who visits her in Italy and helps her cope with her new surroundings. She’s a welcome addition to the cast of characters and often times delivers the best lines.
I don’t see how this will appeal to anyone outside the female sex, because a lot here is tailored for the woman so it sort of alienates the chance of appealing to a wider spectrum of audiences. For a film that attempts to become a sort of allegorical fantasy for women through its tale of a woman scorned by a man and rediscovers herself there just isn’t enough focus on her to make it completely what it promises. There are a lot of sub-plots in the film including the young couple from different families in love, the ex-actress struggling with her promiscuity, the odd family Lane’s character hangs around, her best friend struggling with pregnancy, and it just seems to go on from there without entire focus on Lane’s character whom we want to see more of, but there just isn’t a lot here adhering to the concept. While Lane is charming, she just doesn’t have enough of an interesting character to care about and the narratives from her are often distracting and not enough dialogue or focus on her feelings about being divorced and left behind by her husband, seeing her husband would also have helped make the situation more realistic.
Also, the scenery in the film just seems to drown out the actors. There’s just such beautiful cinematography and direction that spotlights and showcases Italy that we’re distracted and want to see more of the cottages, and villas and villages instead of being immersed in the actual situations and actors. Diane Lane is just charming in the film and is perfect for the heroine of the film with her vulnerable but aggressive spirit and innocence. She trounces about in Italy with a sense of wisdom but is also very naive to what awaits her and we can’t help but smile every time she comes on screen, because Lane glows. The film has some very good moments including Frances’ first outing with her gay tour, her re-building of her villa, her very interesting and fascinating narration throughout the film, and some great supporting performances, all the while creating a filling and satisfying escape into a seductive country. Though a little distracting at times and mainly built for the audience of women who seek to escape through this fantasy, it’s an enjoyable, entertaining odyssey with beautiful landscapes, a fun mood, and a charming performance from the always sexy Diane Lane.