The Bridges of Madison County (1995)
My favorite actress and favorite actor both in the same place and doing what they do best. How in the hell did it take me so long to get around to this?
The Bridges of Madison County is about a woman in the 1960s who grew up in Italy, married young to an American soldier, moved to his family farm in Iowa, had herself two kids and settled into the lonely life of a Midwest housewife. Then one day a ruggedly handsome photographer on assignment for National Geographic shows up at her doorstep while her family’s away at a week-long horse competition of some sort. Before she knows it, she gives this stranger the tour of the town, invites him in for iced tea, invites him over for dinner, and as the days pass, their unlikely friendship blossoms into a love the likes of which she’s never known and might not be able to hold on to.
For the longest time, I always associated this movie with being for the older movie-going crowd, the crowd that gets the Senior discounts and can probably relate to the subject material here far more than an unmarried twenty-something can. Chances are that that preconceived notion of mine is directly tied into this being every grandparent on Earth’s favorite movie of all-time (it’s a fact, ask ’em yourself), but I’m an idiot for letting that bias cheat me out of a moviegoing experience that I would usually jump at. As if that wasn’t bad enough, it’s a Clint movie. I don’t think I’ve ever been more embarrassed. This must be what Bill Buckner felt like.
But if you’re in the same boat as I was, rest assured, enjoying this movie does not require an AARP membership and you don’t need to have lived the story to be affected by it.
So let’s start with Clint, because as we all know, Clint is the man. The other thing we all know about Clint is that he probably shouldn’t have anything to do with this movie. I’d be shocked as shit if there were a producer in ’95 who came across this script and thought, “Get Harry Callahan on the phone.” For a guy who’s made a career out of personifying badass and honing his scowl to the point where it might as well be registered as a weapon, it’s actually pretty impressive that he decided to take on this project even if it’s completely outside of his on-screen comfort zone.
Clint plays our world-traveling photog, Robert Kincaid, and (un)surprisingly, he totally pulls it off. He smiles a lot, he’s in touch with his own feelings, and while I’ve never been one to endorse infidelity, I could hardly blame a gal for two-timing their hubby if Clint-effing-Eastwood rolled up to her front door. It’s just cool to see Clint playing as against-type as possible, showing us this soft, debonair side of him that we never knew existed. Kincaid is a great, honest character and Clint does a fantastic job bringing him to life.
And opposite Clint is Meryl-effing-Streep as our Italian fish out of water, Francesca (what a name). Her fake accent works, and since this is Meryl we’re talking about, she actually makes everything work. But Francesca is the heart of this movie, and as much as I felt for Richard, it pales in how I felt for her. What’s most interesting about her situation isn’t so much the choice she has to make, but that she does in fact love the person she’s married to and the person she’s married to loves her right back. Her husband isn’t villainized, it’s not like she’s sitting on the porch every freakin’ day just waiting for her knight in shining armor to save her from this wreck of a life she’s been roped into, it’s a good life she has, it’s a life she loves in some ways, but is it a life worth giving up to pursue another life entirely?
It’s a great “What would you do?” scenario that doesn’t paint its characters or their actions with a black and white palette, because right and wrong tends to come in a very grey hue when dealing with these kinds of things. But anyway, Meryl is the bomb as usual, she nabbed one of her many Oscar nods for her performance here, and she continues to re-up her existence as a living Goddess with each new thing I see her in.
A huge amount of credit also goes to writer Richard LaGravenese for adapting such a genuine, natural script out of something that could have easily been chick flick trash. You know how the story’s gonna end within the first ten minutes since it’s all told in flashback by Francesca’s kids in the wake of her death, and while it probably would have been nice to not have that spoiled for us from the get-go, the upside is that it helps focus the story on the Richard and Francesca’s relationship rather than using them as a kind of means to an end.
It’s a fantastic marriage of great acting and great writing, it’s wonderful to watch these two go from playful strangers to conflicted lovers over the course of such a brief period of time that ends up being the most important week of their lives. And I actually really like the flashback approach along with the way it brings the infidelity aspect full circle with her kids’ own marriages, and during the few melodramatic scenes that I would have rolled my eyes at had someone else been behind the wheel, I was getting genuinely choked up. Can’t be easy to justify a touchy premise like this as a writer, but LaGravenese does it beautifully.
When I picked up The Clint Eastwood Collection last month, I thought this would be the last movie I’d ever get around to watching, but thanks to my good buddy Fred for suggesting it because I obviously had no idea what I was missing. The Bridges of Madison County might not be the best pro-marriage advocate out there, but it’s very pro-heart in ways in aspects that movies rarely touch upon. It’s not my favorite thing by Eastwood, but for a movie that for all intents and purposes should have no place on Eastwood’s resume, it’s exceptional.
Awesome date movie, too.