Clint Eastwood movingly resurrects the star system, the Hollywood love story, classical Hollywood direction, middle-aged romance, the late jazz singer Johnny Hartman, and the mid-60s, but despite a great deal of craft and sincerity he and screenwriter Richard LaGravenese don't quite turn all the cardboard in Robert James Waller's popular novel into flesh and bone. The one big exception is Meryl Streep's beautiful and fresh performance as an Italian-American Iowa housewife and mother resigned to a life that hasn't lived up to her fantasies. Eastwood himself plays a dreamboat photographer for National Geographic who drops into her life for four days--a fantasy figure who only occasionally adds up to anything more than his sketchy profile. As long as these two are on the screen, one can forget the treacle that placed them there; their first moment of physical contact is exquisite and unforgettable, and the film as a whole makes a plausible conservative argument for adultery as a preserver of marriage. A flashback structure involving the housewife's two kids and suggesting Wuthering Heights only fitfully transcends the Reader's Digest aura this movie is so eager to honor and justify. But it's tempting to overlook the shortcomings of a self-styled relic that's so earnest about what it's doing, and has the unfashionable courage to be slow, especially with so much wonderful jazz on the sound track. With Annie Corley, Victor Slezak, and Jim Haynie. Ford City, Esquire, Biograph, Bricktown Square, Gardens, Golf Mill, Lincoln Village, North Riverside.