A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this story of grown-up entanglements and expectations isn't too likely to engage kids or teens. A few scenes include partial nudity; others depict sexual foreplay, passionate kissing, embracing, and playful post-sexual behavior. Language includes one use of “f--k,” several forms of “s--t,” and a few other words. Not surprisingly for a movie set in Italy, the characters enjoy wine freely (mostly while eating), and background characters occasionally smoke cigarettes. The supporting cast includes a number of gay and lesbian characters, including the main character's best friend; happily, the movie avoids many Hollywood stereotypes when it comes to these characters.
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What's the story?
After her divorce, Frances Mayes (Diane Lane) agrees to take a tour of Tuscany when her best friend Patti (Sandra Oh) buys her a ticket. Frances isn't looking for romantic entanglements. But she ends up with an entanglement of a different kind, impulsively buying an ancient house called Bramasole, which translates into "yearning for the sun." And yes, it is Frances who is yearning for the sun, and yes, the renovation of the house is a metaphor for renovating her spirits. On this emotional journey, she will meet kind souls who will impart life lessons. A free-spirited Englishwoman, a kind local realtor, and three Polish construction workers help her get ready to enter back into life again, and a charming Italian man helps her begin by reminding her that she is capable of loving and being loved. Frances makes a wish for a wedding and a family in the house and when at first it seems that the wedding and the family are not the ones she wished for, she begins to understand that they really are just what she wanted. And she learns that she can help others who yearn for the sun, healing herself at the same time.
Is it any good?
Like the crumbling Italian villa at the center of the story, there’s a lot wrong with this film, but it’s so enticing -- especially for its intended audience -- that it’s hard to resist. The best-selling book by Frances Mayes about her restoration of a crumbling villa is beautifully written and wonderfully evocative, but it does not have much of a story. So writer/director Audrey Wells has taken the real Mayes, and thrown a lot of plot at her.
The problem is that director/screenwriter Wells tells us a lot more than she shows us. She seems to have no understanding of how to translate a story into film. The movie often seems abrupt and unfinished and the characters are superficially drawn. The script tells us how the characters feel about each other but does not make it matter enough for us to believe in or care about the way their relationships are resolved. Lane brings as much to the material as is humanly possible, but is given little to do beyond looking wistful and wounded. But it is all beguilingly pretty to watch and its message of hope and second chances is beguilingly pretty, too.