Every year, a series of articles tend to crop up regarding the social landscape of that period's group of 18-year-olds. Kids born in March of 1993, for instance, have gone through life under the following set of circumstances:
They’d know Russia as Russia, and not the Soviet Union
They’ve never seen Germany as a divided nation
Prince Charles and Princess Diana have never been a couple to them
They’ve probably never played a game on the original Nintendo Entertainment System
They’d also know Clint Eastwood more for his role as a director than an actor. In other situations, this would be something of a tragedy -- think of Flavor Flav forever imprinted in your mind as a reality show caricature rather than as the hype man from Public Enemy -- but Eastwood’s time as director has been quietly and consistently competent. He’s one of those irritatingly prolific Renaissance characters who’s mastered multiple talents* -- the man was even a pretty good mayor for a few years.
*Others include Ted Williams (greatest hitter who ever lived, multi-kill fighter pilot, champion fly fisherman), Bruce Dickinson (lead singer of Iron Maiden, Olympic-level fencer, politician, entrepreneur, jumbo jet pilot), and Julia Child (chef, mogul, researcher in the precursor to the CIA in World War II).
Breezy, released in 1973, is Eastwood’s third film as director. It’s a testament to his burgeoning skill in the medium that he’s able to take the story of a middle-aged real estate agent who falls in love with a woman much younger than himself and have it not seem all that creepy. It’s helped dramatically by a script that treats the two main characters with a certain amount of respect. Their situation is odd but their motivations aren’t, and Eastwood makes them feel like actual human beings. In an era where the term “exploitation” came to mean a genre rather than a crime, Breezy seems to be anything but exploitative.
Romantic movies are only ever as good as their paired leads. The original plan for Breezy was to have Eastwood as Frank Harmon, the main male character played as a wounded Casanova by William Holden. Eastwood has obvious chops as an actor, but I’m not sure that he could have pulled this role off convincingly. High Plains Drifter was a mere two years prior, and Magnum Force would come later in 1973. At that point in his career, Eastwood had too much murder in his terrifyingly small eyes* for audiences to believe he could fall in love with a hippie.
*Try this the next time you watch a movie in which Eastwood uses a gun: pretend that, instead of playing the same character type that he usually plays, he’s actually playing the same character. He’s an immortal gunslinger doomed to wander the world, slaughtering bandits and inventing backstories to fit his needs, until his hate is finally conquered by love in Gran Torino, and he can die with honor without actually shooting anyone. I think it makes them more fun to watch, even if it can’t be applied to The Bridges of Madison County.
Kay Lenz, who plays Breezy’s title character, may be one of the original Manic Pixie Dream Girls as defined by Nathan Rabin -- a carefree, half-mythical movie charater who Loves Life and ends up convincing the main character to Love Life as well. She’s introduced to the audience as she wakes up from a one-night stand with a mustachioed young gentleman (the circumstances leading up to their one night together would be, in modern times, the basis for a film starring Michael Cera), and is next seen narrowly avoiding being kidnapped by the creepiest businessman in Hollywood. Her MPDG credentials are established right away when she treats both these encounters with a shrug, and skips on to the next encounter. Lenz is so good at this role that, supposedly, Eastwood himself became somewhat infatuated with her during filming.
He apparently wasn’t too distracted, though. Breezy was filmed ahead of schedule and under budget, a hallmark for Eastwood. To an extent, this was likely his future directorial style coming into its formative stages in Breezy. He avoids a sweeping and dramatic camera style and works more on managing the flow of a scene, letting the the actors and dialogue carry it to its conclusion. It’s an admirable amount of restraint for a young director, particularly one who could have relied on the potential luridness of the material to make a splash.
While it’s no world-beating classic, Breezy is also somewhat of an important artifact. A May-December romance is usually played for laughs or pathos, but in Breezy’s case, it’s treated as an end unto itself -- something that happens to form the central conflict in these characters’ lives, and must be deal with as a mature issue. It’s to the film’s credit that, even within this framework, it has at its core a certain sweetness.
Joe DeMartino is a Connecticut-based writer who grew up wanting to be Ted Williams, but you would not BELIEVE how hard it is to hit a baseball, so he gave that up because he writes words OK. He talks about exploding suns, video games, karaoke, and other cool shit at his blog. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org and tweeted at @thetoycannon. He writes about sports elsewhere. The sports sells better.