Starring in a high-profile adaptation of one of the best-selling books of all time, Meryl had some big shoes to fill in playing Francesca Johnson, the heroine of Robert James Waller's novel The Bridges of Madison County. Luckily, with her consistently superior accent work and the able direction of co-star Clint Eastwood, the film is a successful subdued romance. Streep plays an Italian woman, married to Iowan farmer, who has grown restless in her life as a wife in Winterset in Madison County. But when her husband and children leave for four days for the state fair, Streep encounters a traveling photojournalist named Robert (Eastwood) who sparks her youthful interest like it hadn't been in years.
Though the story moseys along at a fittingly slow gait (we are talking about Midwestern farm country!), and it makes the four-day romance all the more telling of just how much Streep's character has suppressed by becoming a housewife and giving up some pieces of her identity. Seeing the film, I can imagine how it was successful as a novel. Painting the covered bridges of the countryside as pieces of great art would make for a great descriptive read. Through her dowdy house dresses and mussed-up 1965 hairdo, Streep is radiant, as Francesca's yearning for romance and intrigue shine through every time she looks at Robert.
Aside from the exceptional performance from its leading lady, the movie is exquisitely shot. Its only major flaw may be in its flashback elements. The story is told through the eyes of her now-grown children as they go through their late mother's belongings and happen upon a journal of the four day's events. The realizations that the children go through by reading about their mother's escapades seem a bit forced. The narrative may've been better off without the jumping back and forth between 1965 and the present day.
Meryl's Performance: A-
The Film: B+
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