Up in the villa one enchanted April, in a room with a view under the Tuscan sun, Harvey Keitel had drinks with Giancarlo Giannini. Sound familiar? With a plot so obvious the script chart is practically outlined in lights, Brad Mirman’s “The Shadow Dancer” hits all the expected buttons in yet another take on Tuscany’s power to loosen up anal city types and soothe troubled souls. Dialogue is culled from just about every other struggling writer pic, allowing cliche to trump originality. Still, moderate biz could accrue thanks to Italy’s eternal popularity and a name cast.
London-based editor Jeremy (Joshua Jackson) is commanded by his boss (John Rhys-Davies) to go to Tuscany and sign up famed reclusive author Weldon Parish (Keitel). Parish hasn’t written since his wife died 20 years earlier, and now he’s notorious for driving away any journalist or editor daring to disturb his retirement. As a long-time fan, Jeremy embraces the idea.
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He rents a fab BMW convertible and checks into the quaint hotel in Parish’s small town, run by solipsistic owner Gustavo (Armando Pucci). As expected, the great writer is rude and cantankerous, but Parish has a beautiful daughter, Isabella (Claire Forlani, affecting a thick Italian accent). Jeremy and Isabella fall for each other, and after Jeremy gives a tongue-lashing to snotty successful author Ian (Ken Drury), even Parish grows attached to the likeable newcomer.
The rest of the pic is predictably spent with Jeremy trying to get Parish to exorcise his demons and write again, while Parish tries to give Jeremy the confidence he needs to finish his own gestating novel. And of course, love blooms under the sun-dappled hills of a Tuscany conceived and embellished especially for a movie audience.
Hackneyed script features character development signaled by Jeremy allowing his slicked-back hair to go natural and ditching his business attire for the kind of collarless shirt only worn in Italy by elderly peasants. “Can’t you feel it? Life!” Parish shouts to Jeremy while standing in the open convertible in one of countless lines old enough to sport white whiskers.
Jackson displays an easy winning charm that goes some way toward alleviating the banality. Keitel gets to laugh and cry, display his naked ass (again) and even do a Zorba-like dance, but only when he’s buddy-buddy with Giancarlo Giannini (as his friend Father Ferzetti) is there a relaxed rapport that’s totally believable. It’s as if these two pros know they’re gliding through mediocrity and have decided to just enjoy each other’s company.
Tech credits are standard issue, with London cast in a cold, gray light to contrast with the warmly inviting Italian landscape. (Pic was mostly shot around the Val d’Orcia.) In keeping with the overall sentimental atmosphere, Mark Thomas’ music gets dangerously sappy.
Title is still being worked out: On print viewed, opening credits say “The Shadow Dancer,” after the title of Parish’s most famous novel, while closing copyright reads “Shadows in the Sun.”