THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY asks the question is there love life
after 40/60? It answers in the affirmative. For the 40+ set we have
an Iowa farm woman named Francesca Johnson (Meryl Streep) who has been
married to a local Iowa farm man so long that she can not count the
years and yet retains her heavy, (theoretically) Italian accent.
Representing the 60+ crowd we have a National Geographic photographer
by the name of Robert Kincaid (Clint Eastwood).
The screenplay by Richard LaGravenese is based on the novel by
Robert James Waller that the entire Western world except me has read,
reread and cried themselves to sleep with. The script starts with a
grown sister and brother in their 40s opening their mother Francesca's
will. It seems she wants to be cremated and have her ashes dumped by
one of the local covered bridges. Her children are shocked until they
discover her diaries. The movie is then told as a long series of
flashbacks based on the diaries.
Francesca falls into a deep, romantic love with Robert while her
family is off to the county fair for four days. The movie is the story
of this affair. We are talking serious, romantic, long lasting stuff
here, not your usual sexual fling that Hollywood is so fond of. Saying
they fall head over heels in love, does not do it justice. Hmm, so you
had a four day business trip planned? Rethinking your plans now are
Most of the plot is predicable after the initial setup and that is
okay. The point is not to guess the next plot twist, but to identify
with the characters and vicariously live their romance and have that
illicit fling you subconsciously always wanted. I thought the plot
outline was wonderful, but I found the writing pretty leaden most of
the time with sporadic poetic or more lively parts. I think I would
have hated the novel, but maybe not.
The cinematography by Jack N. Green, whose best previous work was
in the UNFORGIVEN where he got an Oscar nomination, was lovely. The
outdoor scenes were easy to make picture card perfect and serene. The
tricky part, and where the artistry came in, was the indoor scenes at
night. Wonderful, radiant glows filled the house. Watching it was
like drinking a warm cup of Earl Grey tea. It filled your body with
The directing (Clint Eastwood) and the editing is of the slow and
dreamy school of movie making. Lots of silence or throw away dialog so
that the characters can just sit around and stare romantically into
each other's eyes. The pacing found me checking my watch frequently.
I would not recommend the late showing, you may fall asleep in the slow
There are several precious scenes in the show. There is a
romantic walk after dark that has a great mood to it. The chirping
crickets really add to the ambiance. As a contrast, the scene in the
local coffee shop is quite an eye opener and nicely done.
The acting by Eastwood is the best in the movie. He is major
handsome with his thick salt and pepper hair and his rugged good looks.
He plays a more quiet and sensitive character than I have ever seen him
play before. He was natural and believable.
Streep, on the other hand, was constantly and visibly acting. Her
accent was unnecessary and a major detraction. Her morose
characterization of Francesca was overdone. It was a parody of
Sophie's Choice, but with a different European accent, except they both
sounded the same. Whereas Eastwood's performance was convincing, I did
not buy Streep's. All this notwithstanding, you can count on her
getting an Academy Award nomination for it. The Academy members will
be in awe of it. For a much better performance by Streep having an
affair, see FALING IN LOVE. In it, she has genuine chemistry with
Robert De Niro and does not use her one-size-fits-all European accent.
The minor characters were good. The sister was perky and
interesting in a small part. She had a trust in her mother's judgment
that was sweet. The actor who played Streep's farmer husband was
appropriately simple and boring. Afterall, the way Francesca described
her husband was that he was good to the kids and was "clean".
Copyright © 1995 Steve Rhodes