#38 in my ranking of Clint Eastwood’s films.
Well, this is certainly a change of pace. After the taut thriller that was Play Misty For Me and the violent, revisionist Western that was High Plains Drifter, Clint Eastwood makes his third directorial feature about an older man learning to accept the romantic love of an attractive, young hippie chick. That’s…different. Creating a melding of the old Hollywood and the new by hiring William Holden as his lead, Eastwood crafts a tale of small stakes, little emotion, and consummate professional filmmaking to create a middling film with a slightly weird take on May-December romances.
Breezy (Kay Lenz) is a hippie drifter who leaves the bed of a man she met the night before who saved her from a torrential downpour and immediately starts hitchhiking. She gets picked up by the ultimate creeper who talks to her with nothing but implication that she’d better put out for him before she runs out of the car, gets free, and then keeps on moseying along like nothing had really happened. She ends up near the house of Frank (William Holden), a man going past middle age, divorced from a younger wife, and enjoying his loneliness with one-night flings he desperately tries to get out of his house the next morning as quickly as possible. Frank has no time for a flighty hippie girl when he has houses to inspect as a real estate agent, his female friend Betty (Marj Dusay) whom he loves but agreed to pull away for a time, time she used to fall in love and get engaged to another man, and his own loneliness to look after. Breezy is something like a tick, though, and she just digs in. She gets him to give her a ride, convinces him to drive her wherever he goes, and convinces him to pick up a dog that had been hit by a car.
Of course, he steadily goes from exasperated with this flighty little thing to enamored with her. I think the way to more intelligently approach this topic would have been Breezy being a window to opening Frank up to the limiting way he’s living his life, to finding a way to connect with Betty in the end. That’s not the direction Eastwood and the script by Jo Heims (who also wrote Play Misty for Me) wants to go, though. It ends up feeling much more like fantasy fulfillment.
And part of the issue is that there really are very few stakes at play here. Breezy could just keep on with her wayward life where, yes, she faces danger, but she can obviously take care of herself at the same time. Frank could just keep on with his lonely existence. I don’t expect little romances to be life threatening affairs or anything, but the stakes are really that Frank needs to learn to let people into his life again while Breezy could really just move on. The focus is on Frank, and falling in love with a wallflower hippie chick who loves to get naked and have sex is just so easy for him. Is he learning a real lesson here? Or is he just learning that yes, he can let the good looking young woman live with him?
The only real conflict in the film comes late when Frank’s relationship with Breezy comes to the attention of his friend Bob (Roger Carmel) who makes very light fun of the situation and talks about how he fantasizes that he could do the same, freeing himself from his shrew of a wife. This makes Frank uncomfortable then he becomes cold towards Breezy, and they break up…for a time. You see, Frank learns that, yes, he can accept the love of an attractive young woman.
So, I’m dismissive of the film overall because it’s both light and weirdly all about an older man’s fantasy fulfillment, but it’s not worthless. There’s something to how Eastwood makes movies that keeps them being at least watchable. In addition, Holden was an old pro, and he puts in a solid performance, giving everything Frank needs to feel real. Lenz, on the other hand, can’t really carry her later scenes of great emotion all that well, making her feel like, yes, a flighty little girl who has no real understanding of the emotions she’s carrying. There are also some fun moments here and there, mostly around Frank’s friend Bob, and there’s a final pair of lines that very nicely points out the dueling way the two look at the world with Frank seeing a year as a short time and Breezy seeing it as a long one.
It’s a weird little film, and I don’t think it works. The stakes are too low, the conflict introduced far too late and too easily overcome, and the ultimate message feels too much like wish fulfillment rather than an actual dramatic development, but Eastwood makes films well and William Holden is solid. I can’t hate it, but it’s definitely not good.