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Butterflies Are Free (1972)

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Score: 7/10

Genre: Dramatic Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 49 min.

Release Date: July 6th, 1972 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Milton Katselas Actors: Goldie Hawn, Edward Albert, Eileen Heckart, Michael Glaser

B

ased on Leonard Gershe’s Broadway play, “Butterflies are Free” progresses much like its source material (Gershe also penned the script), with only about four roles and one location, yet still manages to provide engaging entertainment and moving theatrics. And despite its intimate setting, it never feels like a stage production. But what starts as a blithe comedic romance steadily twists into a more severe drama of emotions; as the witty banter drains into conflicted battles of wits and wills, even the optimistic ending doesn’t offer the desired solace or the most befitting conclusion to the heartrending journey.

When vivacious 19 year-old Jill Tanner (Goldie Hawn) moves into her new San Francisco apartment, the paper-thin walls lead her to meet next-door neighbor Don Baker (Edward Albert).  He’s kind, educated, talented, well adjusted – and blind.  At first startled by his disability, Jill soon becomes intrigued with the young man and befriends him.  Don quickly falls in love with Jill, but their time together is cut short when his disapproving mother (Eileen Heckart) unexpectedly arrives and attempts to interfere with their relationship.

With so few characters involved, exceptional acting is imperative.  Up to the task is Edward Albert, capably portraying the sightless but self-assured Don, who strives for independence and acknowledgement of his abilities, not his disabilities.  It’s a powerful and convincing performance, brimming with conviction and sensibility. So too is Eileen Heckart’s turn as the overprotective, domineering mother, who delivers such a mesmerizing display that it netted her the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for 1972.  On the opposite end of the spectrum is Goldie Hawn’s whimsical, ditzy coquette, who embodies both carefree chatterbox and fickle flirt.  She’s irksome at times and genuine at others, but offers the playfulness necessary to complement the other more serious roles.

“Butterflies are Free” features a fast romance between an unlikely couple and the subsequent mishaps, tragedies, and revelations created by inexperience, intolerance, and judgment.  Jill is reminiscent of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” Holly Golightly in her naivety and flightiness but, while the struggle to reform and adapt, which leads to a pleasant but timid Hollywood ending, is welcome in Blake Edward’s film, here it doesn’t feel sincere.  Don’s battle is the one that demands a realization and triumph that he must earn on his own, not succumbing to the easy alternative in which happiness falls neatly at his feet.  It’s a shame that the conclusion doesn’t match the brilliance witnessed in the initial struggles of mentalities and verbiage that punctuate both the young couple’s short-lived, bittersweet romance and the subsequent rapid-fire obstinacy between overbearing mother and defiant son.

– Joel Massie

 



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