The Tuscan Hills are the Real Beauty
Considering director Bernardo Bertolucci's back catalogue of movies includes the steamy character study "Last Tango in Paris" you would have expected that "Stealing Beauty" would have been another intriguing character study spiced up with sexual passion and frequent eroticism, but sadly it isn't. There is something missing in this tale of 19 year old Lucy and her summer in the Tuscan hills, something which stops it being intriguing, erotic or even an engrossing study. Instead it actually feels a bit mediocre, a bit slow and whilst the surrounding landscapes and the statues which adorn the Tuscan villa are indeed beautiful the actual "Stealing Beauty" sadly isn't.
Lucy (Liv Tyler - The Incredible Hulk), a 19 year old teenager arrives in the Tuscan hills to spend time with her late mother's friends, and have her portrait done by Ian (Donal McCann) a talented bohemian artist. But Lucy is not just there for her portrait and hopes to pick up with a young boy who she shared her first kiss with four years earlier, but this time she wants to lose her virginity. Not only that she wants to solve a riddle left within her mother's diary which leads Lucy to believe that her father is one of the men who live in the Tuscan hills.
The trouble is that for "Stealing Beauty" to work it needed strong characters ones which are interesting and engage us in their own situations but for the most they are quite vacuous. There's nothing overly intriguing about any of them, except for maybe Alex, the dieing writer played by Jeremy Irons, who befriends young Lucy and provides guidance in her quests. It's not that there are not enough characters either, as the Tuscan villa is home to a wide range of characters from jewellery designer Miranda, artist Ian and his wife Diana to name but a few, it's just that they are empty characters, lacking intrigue to make them worth watching.
It also doesn't help that "Stealing Beauty" fails to really charm when it comes to the sexual side of the movie, with much of the so called eroticism feeling at odds with what it's trying to achieve. There is nudity and sex scenes, such as the pool scenes which sees many of the stars such as Rachel Weisz and Sinead Cusack appearing naked but for the most they seem to have been thrown in out of expectation rather than because they add to the storyline. A prime example is an early scene when Lucy goes for a swim only to be surprised to find a naked Miranda played by Rachel Weisz sunbathing; it feels like it's there to shock rather than anything else. It's not all like that and there are a couple of scenes which are erotically impressive, seductive in their delivery such as the one towards the end featuring Liv Tyler but they are few and far between.
The strange thing is that the individual performances are actually very good; it's just that their characters are rather hollow. Take the main lead which is Liv Tyler as 19 year old Lucy, it's a good performance which shows the difference between her and the adults who live at the villa, the fact that she can't converse in their general day to day discussions shows the separation that she feels and that she is an innocent virgin comes across quite masterfully, but the character is for the most boring.
Then there is Jeremy Irons who really captures your attention as the dying writer, you warm to his friendship with Lucy and enjoy their conversations as he understands her, but then that's all there is to the character. It's the same through out, performances from Donal McCann, Sinead Cusack, Joseph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz to name just a few are all more than adequate, it's just that their characters are hollow, lacking depth and even shallow.
What this all boils down to is that "Stealing Beauty" is a disappointing movie because of who directed it and the expectations which come with that name. But then it is on par with your average movie where someone spends time in Tuscany, and there have been a few movies which head down this route. It features good performances and wonderful scenic shots, but then lacks the intensity, intrigue and interesting characters which it's crying out for. As for the expected eroticism well for the most it feels awkward, inserted purely because it is expected but it has its moments where it does manage to reach the eroticism you would expect from director Bernardo Bertolucci.