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Romantic Pang For Anything or Anybody

May 4th, 2010 · 6 Comments

Bridges of Madison County 1995 poster Bridges of Madison County DVD

The Bridges of Madison County (1995)
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Screenplay by Richard LaGravenese, based on the novel by Robert James Waller
Produced by Clint Eastwood, Kathleen Kennedy
135 minutes

For every expletive harnessed in the disparagement of The Bridges of Madison County as it sold 50 million copies in Wal-Marts worldwide — Meryl Streep reportedly loathed the clumsily written novel, referring to it as “a crime to literature” — the opposite could describe the film adaptation, given nuance by screenwriter Richard LaGravense and directed by Clint Eastwood with a full bloom perhaps carried over from Unforgiven and A Perfect World. It’s an unhurried and thoughtful love story in spite of growing from the same magic beans as Robert James Waller’s publishing sensation. Screen rights were purchased by Amblin Entertainment for perhaps Steven Spielberg to direct this fantasy of a bored housewife lifted into rapture by the appearance of a Clint Eastwood type in her driveway.

No matter how incredulous the setup, what’s effective and even moving about The Bridges of Madison County is that Meryl Streep is so gifted and Eastwood’s direction of her so assured that a real sense of longing is imparted; it doesn’t have to be longing for a National Geographic photographer that visited your farmhouse while your family was away, it could a romantic pang for anything or anybody. The script is skillfully bookended by grown children applying their late mother’s discoveries to their own lives and is colored by a powerful, low key musical score by saxophonist and composer Lennie Niehaus, as well as vintage blues tunes by Dinah Washington, Johnny Hartman and Irene Kral. The result is a film that never asks for any emotional investment it doesn’t earn and earn well.

31 Days of Eastwood

Carolyn Johnson (Annie Corley) and her brother Michael (Victor Slezak) convene at an Iowa farmhouse for the reading of their late mother Francesca’s will. The first surprise is that instead of a burial in the plot purchased by her late husband, Francesca wishes to be cremated and her ashes thrown from a local covered bridge. The opening of a safe deposit box reveals radiant photos of their mother the children have never seen, as well as a letter from a man who was her lover, a photographer for National Geographic named Robert Kincaid; upon his death, he left most of his belongings to Francesca and requested his ashes be scattered from the same bridge their mother wishes to be. A key directs the children to a trunk, in which Francesca has left her children three journals revealing how she came to meet Kincaid.

Moving back to 1965, Francesca (Meryl Streep) — who grew up in Italy and came to Iowa with a serviceman (Jim Haynie) she met there — is given four days of peace when her husband and two teenagers head to the Illinois State Fair. Francesca receives a visitor in Robert Kincaid (Clint Eastwood), a photographer searching for a covered bridge for a National Geographic story. Offering to take him there herself, Francesca is drawn to Kincaid’s free spirit and creativity, qualities less than abundant in rural Iowa. He seems drawn to her passion and sense of humor, qualities even rarer in his trips around the world. She invites him to dinner and an affair quickly blossoms. Given the choice of leaving Iowa with Robert, Francesca ultimately makes a decision she lives with for the rest of her life.

Bridges of Madison County 1995 Victor Slezak Annie Corley

Bridges of Madison County 1995

Bridges of Madison County 1995 Meryl Streep

Bridges of Madison County 1995 Clint Eastwood

Bridges of Madison County 1995 Meryl Streep

Bridges of Madison County 1995 Meryl Streep Clint Eastwood

Bridges of Madison County 1995 Meryl Streep

Bridges of Madison County 1995 Meryl Streep Clint Eastwood

Bridges of Madison County 1995 Meryl Streep

Bridges of Madison County 1995

Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 39 users: 90% for The Bridges of Madison County

Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: 66 for The Bridges of Madison County

What do you say?

Tags: Based on novel · Bathtub scene · Brother/sister relationship · No opening credits · Small town

6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Neil Fulwood // May 4, 2010 at 1:36 pm

    The absolute simplicity and lack of phoney sentiment Eastwood invests in the narrative is what lifts ‘The Bridges of Madison County’ above its appallingly written and shamelessly manipulative source material.

    Case in point: the finality of Kincaid and Francesca going their separate ways. Eastwood sidesteps all the usual cliches of agonised expressions, trembling lower lips, et al, and summarises Francesca’s decision in an almost unbearably simple and unaffected shot of the indicator light on Kincaid’s pick-up truck blinking slowly in the rain. It’s akin to watching ‘Brief Encounter’ and the last scene playing out to an extended shot of the guard’s lantern on the steam train … and yet it works so brilliantly.

  • 2 Yojimbo_5 // May 4, 2010 at 3:20 pm

    Something of a miracle, really, given the source. I recommend “Bridges” to incredulous folks who hated the novel–as did I–and get pretty unanimous glowing reports of it.

    My wife–who hates Eastwood and despised this novel–was moved by this one. It;s a combination of the emphasis on the kids and their incredulity “that Mom would do that” and the Streep and Eastwood rapport, both as co-stars and director/actress. Eastwood is very natural in this, and risks looking unattractive. And that scene in the rain is cripplingly good.

  • 3 Roxanne Kowalski // May 4, 2010 at 4:00 pm

    Dear Joe, the last time I had a chance to see “The Bridges of Madison County” I was on a trans-atlantic flight. Despite being bored out of my mind, I opted to stare at the back of the seat in front of me. The book had just been too horrid, vile linguistic elasticity. I could not get myself to watch the movie. I think now I have to reconsider.
    Thank you!
    Love your blog.

  • 4 kelsy // May 4, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    I haven’t seen this in years, but I remember my reaction was of horror for the children reading about their mom’s sex life, and amazement about how much I was invested in the final decision scene.

  • 5 Flickhead // May 5, 2010 at 3:35 am

    It’s an excellent, emotional picture (I’m looking forward to your discovery of Eastwood’s “Breezy”), despite the awkward performances of the grown children in the framing device — Corley and Slezak appear to be in rehearsal under the direction of an assistant. (Aren’t they poorly post-dubbed to boot?) Nonetheless, I ID with Streep’s character and situation. This thing had me sobbing like a bitch.

  • 6 Joe Valdez // May 5, 2010 at 10:42 am

    Neil: I couldn’t have said it any better (and probably didn’t). I think what Eastwood brought to this material originated from such a dubious source was the feeling of an old standard dusted off and played on a turntable. The effect is quiet, sentimental but at the same time, more moving than the who hash of the novel. Any director adapting Nicholas Sparks who hash would do well to study Eastwood’s refined approach, not to mention the caliber of cast he attracted. Thanks for commenting!

    Jim: I wonder how much good will about The Bridges of Madison County is due to its quality as a movie or the surprise that it actually isn’t bad like the book. Probably both. My dad was staying with me last month and even he had to look over my shoulder while I was watching that scene in the rain and comment, “Aw, that was sad”. That’s when you know you’ve made a good flick. Thanks for commenting!

    Kristie: “Horrid, vile linguistic elasticity” is something Hollywood could not do proper justice to (the operative word there being “linguistic”). Instead, as others have indicated, the film version is quite moving. Thank you for visiting and leaving such a literate comment that would have beyond the powers of Robert James Waller.

    Kelsy: Somehow those both seem very Kelsy appropriate responses. I don’t think Clint would mind at all. Thanks for commenting!

    Ray: Few people really “watch” movies like you do. Either I didn’t really notice or didn’t really care about the bookends, which I don’t think would’ve been better had stars played those parts. I agree 100% that rather than laugh at it, Eastwood enables us to identify with Streep’s situation. Even my dad thought the ending was sad. Thanks for commenting!

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