I spent the entire weekend in a continuing education course entitled "Evaluation and Treatment of the Complex Shoulder" which was very good, but made it absolutely necessary to schedule the day off. I therefore made plans with my friend Scooter to hang out at his place today and just lie around grazing on junk food. As I've mentioned in previous posts, Scooter is also a Meryl fan and we therefore watched Silkwood and The Bridges of Madison County. In between those we watched African Cats but Meryl of course isn't in it (although I'm sure she could play a member of the genus panthera better than anyone if given the chance).
Bridges sort of brought Meryl out of a slow period in regard to the quality and recognition of her films. It was between 1990 and 1995 that she went the longest between Oscar nominations in her career. Director Clint Eastwood said when deciding on who should play the lead of Francesca that he only made one call. Meryl accepted, luckily for him, since he reportedly had no backups in mind. I'm sure he would've figured it out, but it's fun to know he wanted the best and therefore chose Meryl.
The film takes place in Iowa and Meryl plays Francesca Johnson, an Italian war bride living on a farm with her husband and two children. The story actually starts with her adult children going through her belongings after her death and all of the scenes that include Meryl are flashbacks to 1965. The children find out that their mother had an affair while they were at the Illinois state fair for four days with their father. Eastwood plays Robert Kinkaid, a National Geographic photographer who happens to be in town over those four days to shoot what else but the bridges of Madison county.
Francesca finds Robert and his job very exotic and attractive, and the two essentially start an affair while the rest of the family is gone. Meryl does a great job of portraying a very typical life of a wife and mother in rural Iowa in the 60's. Very mundane (at least to Francesca), repetitious, thankless. It's not the life she saw for herself when she decided to follow her husband from Italy. We can see the tempered excitement that Meryl is able to convey at how interested she is in this man who represents a life far more fulfilling to her and one in such contrast to her daily routine.
Scooter at one point mentioned that he forgets that he's watching Meryl. He said, "she's Francesca." Yes. Accent perfected of course, Meryl manages to get us in her corner when really she's doing something that most people wouldn't consider particularly noble. But we get it. She wants so badly to see more, to do more, to have a job, to get out of the house. Yet the prospect of leaving her family so abruptly is ultimately something she cannot do. Here is where we see Meryl doing some of her best stuff. I find myself wanting her to leave with Robert so badly and we can feel her internal conflict as she weighs her personal interests with her sense of duty to her family. The climax (at least for Meryl's acting in my opinion) is when she's in the truck with her husband near the end of the film and she has to watch Robert drive away in the rain. We can't tell if she's going to leave, if she'll just jump out of the truck and run after him . Her sadness is so believable and I love how convincing she is at showing that emotion with the struggle of trying not to let her husband see that she's upset. We've all been there, whether in a relationship or any number of other situations, and I think it would be a tough emotion to negotiate for an actor. Meryl of course masterfully delivers:
Amazing stuff. I do have to mention that I hate the performance of the guy who plays her adult son. I think he's just an awful actor and makes lame choices with his lines. Not sure what Eastwood was thinking with the casting. Maybe he was a nephew or something, but ew. The portions with Streep and Eastwood are by far the most interesting in the film, and if you can stand the substandard performance of the son, you'll love it. Meryl received her 10th Academy Award nomination for what I consider one of her top five screen performances.