That bad book has come a long way.


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

The fun of "The Bridges of Madison County" is to figure out why a badly written book that has now become a decent, if implausible, movie has captured the imaginations of millions of Americans for the last three years.

The answer can only be that all who read or see it are projecting a deep piece of their emotional lives into the story. Robert James Waller's style is irrelevant; what he did, it seems, is create a blank page for the collective fantasy. "Bridges" is an invitation to consider what might have been, permission to think about what was missed or what was lost. As Robert Kincaid and Francesca Johnson, Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep become the vessels for the inner lives of their audience.

After overcoming some awful overacting in the opening scene by Victor Slezak as Francesca's son, Michael, they go on to play out a gentle, tender affair that is rooted in decency. With her family away at a four-day farm show, Francesca's fires are kindled by Robert, a National Geographic photographer enticed by the bridges of the small Midwestern farm town. Forget the faint likelihood of Meryl Streep as a farm wife or Clint Eastwood as an unattached lover who is free to ask her to run away with him. It's O.K. this time; they are merely our surrogates in this dream.

"How sad it is," Francesca says, "to leave this earth without your children ever knowing who you were." You can feel the audience melt into sadness. And over the whole looms the probability that this concrete realization of the universal need for connection will evaporate, because "the minute we leave this place, everything will change."

Eastwood and Streep play in gentle understatement, where the question, "Would you like some iced tea?" carries all the loneliness of their lives. It is a story about falling in love far more than about acting out lust, and it cries out the sadness that so much love has to take place in secrecy.

The movie propels itself slowly with a lot of meaningful staring and long silences while Francesca decides whether she can abandon an entire life to start a new one. "When a woman marries and has children, love begins and love stops," she says with a clear grasp of her "life of details." When her family returns to show her their triumphs, the life she leads for others stares her full in the face.

It is not a stretch to say that romantic love is short-lived inside or out of marriage. Whatever wrongful, sad, or transcendent form it later takes, the initial period of discovery and passion is a joy that lodges in the soul. Carrying it off with a lovely, gentle chemistry, Eastwood and Streep invite us to reinvent our lives. They touch the need in the collective unconscious to connect with another human being. That bad book has come a long way.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 499
Studio : Paramount
Rating : R
Running Time: 2h57m

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