Take some time to smell the flowers…
Butterflies Are Free was one of Goldie Hawn's first cinematic starring roles. She plays Jill, a free spirit in San Francisco's Haight-Asbury who falls for the blind boy next door, Don (Eddie Albert). This was an excellent showcase for Hawn's trademark giggly charisma, and brought to the screen a hit play by writer Leonard Gershe. Most notably, it earned Eileen Heckart (The First Wives' Club, TV's Murder One) a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Don's overprotective mother, Mrs. Baker.
Facts of the Case
Don (Albert) is blind, young, and handsome. He's also rebellious. Against his mother's wishes, he moves out on his own. His mother tenuously agreed to let him live on his own for three months, then she could come by for a visit.
One fateful day, Eddie meets his neighbor, Jill (Hawn), and his good looks immediately catch her eye. They discover that all that separates their apartments is a door. Eddie picks the lock, and voila—they're housemates. Overnight, they become much more—but is Hawn ready for a relationship, and is Mrs. Baker ready to grant her son his much needed independence?
Butterflies Are Free has that cheesy la-di-da '70s feeling that doesn't age well—the goofy hairstyles, the dialogue infused with "groovy," and the fresh-scrubbed pre-Vietnam-escalation pre-'80s-greed pre-oil-crisis feel. However, the sensitive cinematography—featuring good depth of shadows, lovely skin tones, more emotionally reflective hand-held camera work—makes it more enjoyable. The true core of the story—letting go of loved ones, both new and old—shines clearly thanks to the sensitive direction.
Jill and Don take an instant liking to each other. Jill is not horrified by his blindness, and neither is Don, who deals with his handicap with a shrug and heavy dose of humor. However, Don is naïve; Jill freely admits she's already divorced at 19 and that she used to be a hippie, but Don thinks she's given up free love. Has she?
Mrs. Baker doesn't think so. Heckart, as Baker, unexpectedly storms into Don's apartment like a tornado, approaching every flaw of Don's apartment with a zinger or guilt-inducing remark. She is the one thing that can crack through Don's calm façade, and she even gets to Jill, taking Jill out for lunch and trying to dissuade her from getting involved with Don. The problem is, Jill may not get involved with Don. She may leave him high and dry—after all, this is the age of sexual hedonism. It is this conflict that brings about believable, sympathetic actions from Mrs. Baker, played beautifully by Heckart. Her character is certainly the most moving of the film, and the most pivotal, providing a real and touching climax to the film.
I won't give the big plot twist away. Suffice it to say that the film's simple plot was well-executed, and the acting quite good. Even Hawn's bubbly outlook is tempered by genuine emotion. I would have liked Albert to be less stiff, but surrounded by such good people, even his rote line readings became tolerable.
The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is really only passable. Luckily, there was no buzzing of darks, the color transfer was nice and even. However, grain was present, so much so in one indoors scene that it really interfered with my enjoyment of the film. I'm guessing it was on the original print and there may not have been much Columbia could have done with it. Also included on this disc is a full screen version of the film.
The Dolby Digital sound was, again, just okay. Background noises, such as rain falling outside sounded tacked on, not carefully balanced with dialogue. Dialogue itself sounded tinny, as if it were coming from a shallow cave; again, not sure if this is due to being an old print, but the sound could have been richer and crisper.
Nonetheless, due to the simplicity of the story (there are only four or five locales total), these things did not completely interfere with my enjoyment of the film. I would have liked more extras, of course—bonus trailers and the ever-present "interactive menu" just don't cut it.
A word about the trailers, however. The reason any cinephile loves these things is because they are pieces of history, somewhat obscure looks into the cinematic past. The trailers featured here are Cactus Flower, Groundhog Day, and Seems Like Old Times. The first, Flower, was Hawn's first major starring role, with none other than Ingrid Bergman and Walter Matthau as her co-stars. It's a real treat seeing this trailer with all those enormous talents on screen together, and most importantly, to see Hawn at the very beginning of her career. Old Times is a Neil Simon flick that seemed to fade into the past, but again, it's interesting getting a glimpse of it and noting that, actually, it looks pretty damn funny. So good choice of bonus trailers.
Butterflies Are Free could have used a better transfer, but it's not awful—just a nuisance. The acting, writing, and good direction make this a good watch, and the bonus trailers are good for a laugh and add insight into the careers of one of our most talented funny girls, Goldie Hawn.
Butterflies Are Free, but DVDs aren't—next time, could Columbia give us our money's worth with more extras and a more decent transfer? Sentenced to one week begging with hippies at the Haight!
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