Clint Eastwood’s choice to direct this soft-spoken romantic drama was one of the first clues that he wanted his career to include more than just action pictures. Instead of the usual Eastwood tropes of cops and cowboys, the movie depicts May-December sparks between a teenaged hippy, Breezy (Kay Lenz), and her much-older Establishment paramour, Frank (William Holden). For viewers who can look beyond the skeeviness of a sexual relationship between a 19-year-old and a man three decades her senior, Breezy is pleasantly entertaining if a bit overlong and schematic. While Frank’s embarrassment at being perceived as a cradle-robber is one of several predictable plot complications, the intelligent script by Jo Heims tries to define the main characters as individuals instead of mere archetypes.
Adding some much-needed edge, both characters acknowledge ulterior motives in the early days of the relationship, because Breezy needs a meal ticket and Frank’s excited by the prospect of a nubile partner. As her name suggests, Breezy is a breath of fresh air when she drifts into Frank’s life, because she’s as hopeful as he is cynical. Therefore it’s believable that their relationship falters whenever they venture into public—he lives by society’s rules, and she doesn’t acknowledge the existence of any rules at all. Holden, smartly cast because he was an aging matinee idol who could still believably appeal to a younger woman, delivers a characteristically professional performance; he hits all the right notes, but not with any extraordinary flair. Lenz is appealing, though she struggles with making her moon-eyed character seem like more than just a male fantasy, and there’s some irony in the fact that Lenz later found her groove portraying cynics.
Employing long takes, gentle dissolves, and a few tastefully lyrical montage sequences, Eastwood shows his versatility by delivering the exact opposite of the stoic cinematic violence for which he was known at the time, so Breezy is most interesting as a transitional chapter in his titanic directing career: It’s the first movie that Eastwood directed without also appearing as an actor, notwithstanding a wordless blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo. Yet Breezy also merits examination as an awkward attempt to grapple with the early-’70s generation gap. Though the picture cops out in the end, it captures some things quite well, like the portrayal of Frank’s buddy Bob (Roger C. Carmel), whose midlife-crisis lust for young flesh speaks to a deeper bewilderment about what happens when the promise of youth fades into painful abstraction.