1973’s Breezy tells the story of two seemingly different people.
Breezy (Kay Lenz) is a teenage girl who moves to California after she graduates high school. Breezy is intelligent and free-spirited. She’s also practically homeless, moving from bed to bed and never getting tied down to anyone. Many people assume that Breezy is a runaway but her parents died a long time ago and her aunt approves of Breezy pursuing her own happiness. Many people also assume that Breezy is a hippie but Breezy doesn’t consider herself to be one and doesn’t even smoke weed. She may hang out with hippies and runaways but, for the most part, Breezy just wants to be herself, free of all of society’s labels and hang-ups.
Frank Harmon (William Holden) is a fifty-something real estate agent. He drives a nice car. He owns a lovely home. He has money but he’s also freshly divorced and obviously in love with his best friend, Betty (Marj Dusay). Most people would consider Frank to be a part of the establishment, though it soon becomes clear that he’s as disillusioned as any long-haired protestor. Frank has reached the point of his life where he looks at everything that he has and he asks, “Is this all there is?”
Together …. they solve crimes!
No, actually, they fall in love. Breezy ends up outside of Frank’s house after escaping a creepy man who had earlier offered her a ride. When she sees that Frank is getting into his car and driving into the city, she decides that Frank can give her a ride too. She also decides to keep hanging out near Frank’s house. Though Frank is initially annoyed by Breezy’s presumptuousness, he still allows her to spend the night when a sudden storm comes up. Frank and Breezy become unlikely friends and eventually, even more. But Frank continues to worry about the difference in their ages, especially when his friends find out that Breezy is living with him.
Really, Breezy is a film that should not work and it does run the risk of turning into a typical midlife crisis fantasy, with Breezy having no concerns beyond keeping Frank happy. That the film does work is largely a testament to the performances of William Holden and Kay Lenz and the sensitive and nonexploitive direction of Clint Eastwood. When screenwriter Jo Heims first wrote the script for Breezy, she envisioned Eastwood in the role of Frank. Reading the script, Eastwood said that he could relate to Frank’s disillusionment but that he felt he was too young for the role. Instead, Eastwood directed the film and he cast William Holden as Frank. Breezy was Eastwood’s third film as a director and the first in which he didn’t star. It was also nobody’s idea of what a Clint Eastwood film would be and it struggled at the box office. That said, it’s a film that has a legion of devoted fans. Paul Thomas Anderson is one of those fans and even worked a few references to the film into Licorice Pizza.
Holden and Lenz both give excellent performances, with Lenz playing Breezy as being free-spirited but not foolish. Holden, meanwhile, captures Frank’s boredom without giving a boring performance. (It helped that, while Holden was the right age of the role, he still retained enough of his good looks and his movie star swagger that it was believable that Breezy would find him attractive.) Wisely, the film doesn’t make the mistake of idealizing either Frank or Breezy. They’re both complex characters, with their own individual flaws and strengths. At the end of the film, one can be forgiven for having doubts about whether or not they’ll still be together in a year or two but one does definitely wish them the best, no matter what happens.
Though politically conservative, Breezy reveals that Clint Eastwood had some sympathy for the counter-culture. Eastwood has always straddled the line between being a member of establishment and being a rebel. Like Breezy and Frank, he belongs to both worlds.