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
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.
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.
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
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