The Bridges of Madison County (1995) from Tuna and Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Tuna's comments in white:

The Bridges of Madison County (1995) is a Clint Eastwood film starring Meryl Streep as an Iowa farm wife and mother. In the framing device which begins the film, she has died and her children are going through her belongings. They come across a set of diaries which show mom to be far more interesting than they ever expected.

Seems the family had gone off to a state fair, and left her at home, when a handsome and famous photographer, Clint Eastwood, stopped to ask  directions to a covered bridge. He was doing a photo essay on the bridges of Madison County, Iowa. She rode with him because the directions were complicated, and they were immediately attracted to one another. The relationship built quickly into a full blow affair, and Eastwood wanted her to leave with him. Streep wanted the same thing, with all her heart, but in the end, family and duty had to come first, and she stayed behind.

Streep was nominated for an Oscar for her performance, which was great even by her high standards. When we first see her, she is drab and dumpy, going through the motions of living, her life is entirely taken up in one boring detail after another. The moment she meets Eastwood, she transforms into a vibrant woman, without changing makeup or costume. She was concerned about Eastwood directing and starring, as she didn't see how he could direct, yet focus on her while on camera, which is necessary to her, as it is to most actors, to give a good performance. She reported that he was more than equal to the task.

IMDB readers have this at 6.7 of 10. Surprisingly, women and men like it nearly equally, although I would have thought of it as a chick flick. It was not the fact that they fell in love, nor was it the passion they shared that made this film compelling. Rather it was their choice to not stay together. They both realized that what might be best for the two of them would not be best overall. In some ways, this might be Eastwood's best film overall, although not at all typical of his work. The proper score is B.


Breast and bun exposure from Streep in three dark scenes. the one in the bathtub is Streep. The others are body doubles.

Scoop's comments in yellow:

I actually read this book by Robert James Waller. I believe I'm the only man in the history of the world to do so. I hate the flowery women's romances, as most men do, but I don't mind a chick-book once in a while if it is short and reasonably eloquent, which this one was. You can read it in about two hours, and while it ain't exactly Joyce's Ulysses, it ain't as hard to read, either. The central theme is that there are deep universal feelings inside of all of us which we train ourselves to ignore in the execution of everyday life. Inside every adult is an idealistic youth who planned a completely different life. But our dreams never go away, requiring only the right stimulus to reappear.

To paraphrase Waller, sometimes the old dreams are the best dreams. They're gone now, but we're glad we dreamt them.

It's about Francesca, an Italian woman who somehow ended up as a farm housewife in Iowa. Like most of us, she dreamt of a more exotic life than shuckin' the corn and sloppin' the hawgs, but sometimes life just turns out the way it does. Humans follow where life leads them for a while, and before we realize it, decades have passed. So it was with Francesca.

One weekend, she shipped her husband and children off to the state fair with their prize steer. She stayed behind to tend to her own personal needs. As it turns out, her strongest personal need was to form a two-backed beast for four days with a craggy, itinerant photographer. At the end of the story, she had to choose between following her dreams and honoring her obligations. She chose sensibly, but never forgot those four days or the man that rekindled her internal fires.

I think it probably understates the obvious to note that people were surprised to hear that macho Clint Eastwood was going to direct the movie. The people who loved the book were aghast at the mess Dirty Harry would surely make of the gentle story.

To be sure, Eastwood did manage to bring some of his own flourishes to the story. For example, I don't think the book included that scene where Eastwood and Streep are sitting in a local tavern, when Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach drop in for a squinty-eyed three-way gunfight, and they completely shoot out all the mirrors and bottles in the bar, killing five bystanders, and severely wounding Meryl Streep. I guess I was OK with that part, but when Streep did the shoulder roll and blew away Van Cleef with the derringer hidden in her sensible farm shoes, I had to go back and re-read that scene in the novel.

OK, none of that happened. Dirty Harry didn't blast away any Des Moines street thugs, or set fire to any of the stately covered bridges. Clintwood handled the film exactly as he should have, and was widely praised for the restraint in his direction as well as in his performance.

"Go ahead, make my lunch"

Eastwood also avoided the worst pitfall in his way - the temptation to make it seem that going with him (he played the photographer) was a far better choice than staying with the husband. His final cut painstakingly laid out the husband as a good man, and the family as a loving unit, all of which was essential to make Francesca's final choice the correct one. She had to be perceived as a woman who had dreams, but knew the difference between them and reality. If the husband had seemed like a loser, Francesca would almost seem like a fool to stay, and that would have make her choice one to be deeply regretted, rather than one to be remembered with bittersweet longing.

I won't quibble with Tuna's "B" rating because so many different kinds of people are moved so deeply by this movie, but I didn't like the film as much as many people claim to. Maybe it was just me. As I watched it, I could see why the housewife was falling in love with the romantic photographer, who was living and loving the life she had always dreamed of. On the other hand, I couldn't see why the photographer was falling so deeply for Francesca. This man had been everywhere in the world, and somehow decided that of all the people he had known in every nook and cranny of existence, this Iowa housewife was his soul-mate. I know it is something that could happen, and I don't remember finding it incredible when I read the book, but I just didn't buy it as I was watching the movie. After all, he wasn't just asking for more time to get to know her. He was already sure that he wanted her for a lifetime. I just couldn't understand, viscerally or cerebrally, how he could commit in those four days to a statement like "certainty like this only comes once in a lifetime".

Of course, given Clint's age when he made this movie, a lifetime commitment wasn't that much to ask.  

DVD info from Amazon

no widescreen, no features

One last thought. Tuna noted that the film is about equally popular with men and women. True. The truly amazing thing about the demographics for this film, is that all ages, sexes, and nationalities seem to like it about equally. Look up a sub-group, and the score is likely to be about six and a half or seven. This is not a stunningly good score, but is solid. The integrity of the project seems to be reflected in the fact that even teenage boys rate it 7.0, and this is definitely not their kind of movie.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three and a half stars. Ebert 3.5/4, Berardinelli 3.5/4


The People Vote ...

  • with their dollars: shot entirely on location in Madison County, Iowa for $22M, the film was a smash with a gross of $176M.


IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, it's a B. A simple love story that frequently touches men as well as women. It is syrupy, so some people are turned off by it completely, but it is also emotionally involving,  enough so that many people think it touches their souls.

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