Breezy (1973)

There has always been a clash between generations: the older person telling the younger one that his world view is naïve, and that one day reality will crush all his foolish notions; and the younger person telling the older one that he has wasted his whole life laboring under outdated notions. And there have always been May-December romances, in which sex gets mixed in with this generational clash. Though in one sense the story is ageless, yet the one depicted in Breezy seems very dated now. Between the sexual revolution of the sixties and the hubris of the Baby Boomers, the generation gap as it was then called had a unique tone to it that sounds flat today.

The title character (Kay Lenz) is a hippie chick of about twenty years, who sees so much good in people that even though she is almost sexually assaulted by a man who picked her up hitchhiking, her Pollyanna attitude is unaffected. In fact, she is such an exceedingly good-natured free spirit that she begins to get on our nerves. And, of course, when it comes to sex she naturally believes in free love.

And then there is Frank (William Holden). He is just as promiscuous as Breezy is, but since he is in his mid-fifties, we cannot call it free love, which seems to connote youth and innocence of a sort. Furthermore, he is grumpy about it. When we first meet Frank, he can barely force himself to be polite as he runs off the woman he just had a one night stand with. Eventually Frank and Breezy meet and eventually they start having sex. Society’s idea of an acceptable couple is one in which the man is of the same class as the woman is or slightly better. Check. He should be bigger and taller than she is. Check. They should be of the same race. Check. He should be about the same age as she is. Oops.

As often happens when a couple deviates from the societal norm, while the man and woman are alone with each other, everything seems fine. They fool themselves into thinking they don’t care what others think. But when they are around those others, what those others think starts becoming a lot more important than they thought it would be. At first, it is little remarks made by strangers. A saleslady refers to Breezy as Frank’s daughter. A waiter asks to see some ID before serving her a drink. Then they run into some of Frank’s friends. They are too polite to say anything about how young Breezy is, but they don’t have to, because they are obviously embarrassed by the awkwardness of the situation.

Breezy, of course, is oblivious, but Frank feels the heavy weight of society’s disapproval. To make matters worse, the next day one of his friends, Bob (Roger Carmel), compliments Frank on his nerve, his ability to have a fling without caring what others think. He says he would like to do the same himself, but he knows he could only be a meal ticket for a girl that young. Besides, Bob goes on to say, he would start thinking of himself a child molester. He says all this believing that Frank is free of such concerns, but it is obvious that he is actually giving voice to all the misgivings that Frank has been managing to repress.

At this point, the movie could have had a realistic ending, which would have been more satisfying. For example, Frank could have gone home and had a heart-to-heart talk with Breezy that their relationship was untenable on account of their age difference, that society’s disapproval was just making him too uncomfortable to continue on with it, and they could have parted as friends. Instead, the movie descends into melodrama and sentiment. First, Frank decides to end it by being mean and treating her with contempt, causing her to leave in tears. Then, Betty (Marj Dusay), the woman he was going with before he met Breezy, who loved Frank but gave up on him and decided to marry someone else, is in an accident in which her new husband has been killed. Frank goes to see her at the hospital, and she starts gushing about how she and her husband only had one week of marriage, but it was a beautiful week, and that is what really matters, and so on in this sentimental vein, which naturally functions as the lesson about life that Frank needed to learn. Frank then goes looking for Breezy and finds her. Of course she forgives him. He says, “Maybe we’ll have a year,” and they walk off happily together.

Not every movie needs to be realistic, of course, and sometimes a tacked-on happy ending is just what we want. But here it really doesn’t work.

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