Review: Butterflies Are Free (1972)

Butterflies Are Free


Milton Katselas
Leonard Gershe (Play: Leonard Gershe)
109 min.
Goldie Hawn, Edward Albert, Eileen Heckart, Michael Glaser, Mike Warren
MPAA Rating

Buy on DVD


Source Material

Based on the Leonard Gershe play, Butterflies Are Free is about a young blind man (Edward Albert) living on his own as he tries to get out from under the oppressive thumb of his over-protective mother. Living next door to a beautiful, flighty blonde (Goldie Hawn), his life takes a new turn when she invites herself over and begins invading his life, both physically and emotionally. And as he slowly falls for her, his nosy mother (Eileen Heckart) arrives to put a wedge between them and push her lonely, but happy son towards returning home.

After Long Day’s Journey Into Night, it was nice to come into a stage-to-screen adaptation without immediately feeling the weight of the subject. I hadn’t researched the film prior to seeing it and as I was watching, I was rather astounded that not until I got about half way through the film did I come to the realization that it must be based on a play. And while hitting that realization does put a lot of the story’s conceits and plot devices into perspective, it also made me realize just how little the film feels trapped on the boards. Albert is a natural in the film, giving away only at the right time his character’s condition and presenting a joie-de-vivre mask that’s almost indistinguishable from the real thing. Much of his talent is brought out by the carefree Hawn and the rigid Heckart, both delivering solid performances. I remember Heckart in many television shows and a handful of movies, and her gravelly voice and stern demeanor may have been typecast at an early point in her career, but she uses those techniques quite effectively here. While it takes some time to come to love her character, her first few scenes show a practiced talent put effectively on display.

Regarding Hawn? When I was growing up, Nick-at-Night ran re-runs of Laugh-In, an uproarious sixties sketch comedy series built on the hippy movement. So, until recently I had always thought of Hawn as the dumb blonde on that show, gyrating half-nude in the party scenes and waxing stupid-poetic in specific segments. Perhaps it was Dan Rowan and Dick Martin’s show that really put Hawn on the map, but her Oscar win for Cactus Flower sent her on a long string of big screen successes. Here, she appears in her second of five Oscar nominated films, four of which earned her co-stars either Supporting Actress Oscars or nominations (Eileen Heckart in this film and Lee Grant in Shampoo both won; while Eileen Brennan in Private Benjamin and Christine Lahti in Swing Shift were both nominated). And while she has earned most of her acclaim playing the idiot, she shows in Butterflies Are Free just how well she can do that, why her career was so successful, and that beneath that bumbling facade lies a whip-smart woman.
Review Written
October 11, 2010

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