Nothing about "The Bridges of Madison County" seems to suggest that it would be a summer hit.
The movie's biggest promoters are Regis and Kathie Lee. Everyone's grandmother loved it. It is based on a novel of the same name, a concept which has failed time and time again. (Look no further than John Grisham.) It is not a comedy, not a thriller and offers no special effects. It takes place in Iowa.
The actors--Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep--may be recognized as Oscar-caliber performers, but they are often far from the favorites of the average ticket-buyer.
"Batman Forever," which opened in many cities last weekend, broke all box office records, drawing more crowds than even "Jurassic Park." While the last part of the Batman trilogy many not be able to boast the same pastoral cinematography, it is worlds more suspenseful than this quiet drama.
"Bridges" literally reveals the ending in the first scene, spending the rest of the nearly two and a half hours explaining it. The movie is not flashy--it is majestic.
The physical beauty of the area is made vivid for the audience through the eyes of Robert Kincaid (Eastwood), a nomadic National Geographic photographer who arrives in Winterset, Iowa with the intention of "making pictures" of the covered bridges in the area. On the way to the last bridge, he finds himself lost, and stops for directions at the Johnson family farm.
On the front porch he encounters Francesca Johnson (Streep), who came to Iowa from italy after World War II as a war bride.
Johnson' husband and teenage children Michael and Carolyn are conveniently away for a week at the Illinois state fair and she is relaxing with a glass of iced tea after a day of chores. Unable to five Kincaid clear directions through the unmarked roads of Winterset, she accompanies him to the bridge.
In this landscape, the two fall immediately and passionately in love. They both realize that they have become complete in each other, and yet face the most difficult choices of their lives as the week comes to a close. Ultimately, Kincaid continues on his journeys around the world and Francesca returns to her marriage. They never speak again.
The Johnson children never learn about this affair while they are young. It is not until they are puzzled by the request in their mother's estate that her ashes be thrown off one the bridges that they even learn of the events of that week. It is though their reading of Francesca's journals and their discovery of some of kincaid's photographic treasures in the house that they begin to see their mother as a very different woman.
Certainly, the commitment which Francesca shows in remaining with her family even after discovering the love of her life borers on a sainthood that may be easy to find unrealistic.
However, this decision is not less plausible than the arrival of Robert kincaid in town on the only week in fifteen years that her whole family decides to go out of town. Suspending this initial disbelief, the whole story is left to unfold like a fairy tale.
In fact, the only time the movie seems to falter is when it tries too hard to teach a lesson. The description of Francesca's altruism in sacrificing her desire for her responsibility suddenly reforms her children into believing that they must look for the passion in their lives.
Michael pledges that he will never let his wife be unhappy again; Carolyn gains the courage to suggest a trial separation.
Still, if the attempts to make the story timeless seem contrived when applied to Franceca's children, they do not fail to be a lesson for the moviegoer.