Though I have a burning love for Diane Lane, horse movies are not my bag, so I took a pass on Secretariat. After finally seeing it, I can't say that I regret waiting this long. It's a fine film. Sturdy. Well done. But not particularly special. The race sequences didn't tickle my pickle. I know this may come as a shock, but I'm not the sportiest guy on the planet. It had some lovely, feel-good things to say, which I'm not completely averse to. But there was one thing about the movie that I expected to be outstanding and that was Diane. I was not disappointed.
Her performance as Penny Chenery is glowing. She makes acting choices that are constantly surprising but, at the same time, always feel like what we should have expected from her character in that moment. Never the obvious choice, but always one that makes perfect sense. She is not what I would call a subtle actress. She wears the subtext in her face and on her gestures. Oftentimes, this makes an actor seem inorganic and over the top. On Diane Lane, it is magical. There are times in her performances where you can see ten different shades of emotions, all variations on a theme, all telling of her characters emotional state, run across her expressive face. At no point does it feel like she is projecting. She is not lazy or taking the easy way out. She allows the emotion bubble to the surface rather than burying them. Somehow she is able to be as theatrical as you possibly can on screen without crossing the border into unbelievability.
Under the Tuscan Sun is actually almost the opposite of a typical rom-com. Every time you expect it to take a left, it veers right, as Diane Lane's character, Frances, leaves everything behind and buys a villa in in Tuscany, on faith, for a life that she doesn't yet have. In a way it all boils down to something my Mama always says. It has kind of become the words by which I live my life. "When God closes a door, he opens a window."
I love those words. Sometimes the window is small and hard to reach. Sometimes it only allows the faintest bit of light in at first. Sometimes you have to work at getting to it, prying it open, and climbing through. Sometimes it takes far longer than what seems fair. But that window is there. You have got to have faith that it is and work to find it. What is at the other side can be so sweet.
When this movie came out in 2003, I had just moved to NYC, was full of drive and ready to conquer the big, bad city. Eight years later, Under the Tuscan Sun has a level of resonance that even I, as a fan of the movie, never would have predicted. From the moment Frances steps off that gay tour bus she never expected to be on, following the sunflower into the Italian unknown, she opens herself up to change. Anyone who knows me knows how terrified I can be of change. (Just ask to see my tattoo.) Watching Frances build her life from the ground up by refraining from control, is both scary for me and beautiful.
The movie is a breath of fresh air that surprises me and makes me feel warm every time I see it. (This is the movie that Eat, Pray, Love wishes it had been. And this is coming from someone who's a huge fan of the original Elizabeth Gilbert book. Read it. Stat.) The second that you think you know what role a character will play in the story, you will be proven wrong. It also has a great supporting cast (including a brilliant Sandra Oh) and one of my favorite film scores of all time (by Christophe Beck). If you have never checked this movie out, please give it a chance. Put aside whatever expectations you have about what it's going to be and live in this character's journey for a couple of hours. It has the potential to change the way you look at your life. Sometimes I feel like this movie is my Oprah.
I myself am at a kind of crossroads in my life. Re-watching this movie helps remind me to brave. And reminds me that it's OK to be a little scared as long as you have trust that life will lead you in the right direction. The universe has proven to me that wonderful things are on the horizon. I have an awesome man in my life, an amazing family, and beautiful friends. They are my windows in the dark room of an oppressive city, a miserable job and the absurdity of being 31 years old and still not knowing what I want to be when I grow up.
I have always loved sunflowers, but since this movie, they have become my favorite flower. Every time I see one it reminds me that when an adventure comes along in life, you take it. That's where the good stuff is. If you don't take that leap, then you'll never know where you might have landed. You've got to step out into the unknown and follow the flower.