Seeing as how she first gained mainstream attention by starring in the silly TV series Gidget (1965-1966) and The Flying Nun (1967-1970), Sally Field seemed destined for a career in light comedy. Yet as early as 1971, when she starred in this TV movie about the Generation Gap, Field made it clear she was both interested in exploring dramatic material and proficient at playing serious roles. So, even though Field didn’t truly burst free of typecasting until starring in the acclaimed telefilm Sybil (1976), this earlier endeavor represents an important step along her path. In Maybe I’ll Come Home in the Spring, Field stars as Denise Miller, the oldest daughter of upper-middle-class parents who are preoccupied with reputation and social position.
When the story begins, Denise returns home after a year she spent on the road with hippies. Her arrival stirs up old tensions. Denise’s superficial father, Ed (Jackie Cooper), gets bent out of shape whenever rules of propriety aren’t followed, and Denise’s smothering mom, Claire (Eleanor Parker), ranges from passive-aggressive nastiness to outright judgmental cruelty. Meanwhile, Denise’s little sister, sexy teenybopper Susie (Lane Bradbury), has started a spiral even more destructive than Denise’s, maintaining a drug habit and quarrelling with her parents at every opportunity.
As written with great sensitivity by Bruce Feldman, Maybe I’ll Come Home in the Spring creates tension by asking whether Denise can suppress her freespirited identity sufficiently to integrate into a repressive household. Concurrently, Susie repeats troublesome behaviors that she learned from Denise. At its most incisive, Maybe I’ll Come Home in the Spring features moments like the elaborate party scene during which Denise’s oblivious parents mistake Denise’s concern for Susie’s welfare as a signal that Denise is drugged or overwrought; the sequence provides an effective dramatization of people seeing only what they want to see.
Produced and directed by the reliable Joseph Sargent, Maybe I’ll Come Home in the Spring has uniformly good acting and a steady pace, even if Sargent’s integration of flashbacks to Denise’s life among the longhairs isn’t especially graceful. Similarly, the ticking-clock device of Denise’s lover, Flack (David Carradine), making his way across the country to “rescue” Denise is a bit contrived, though it adds a sense of urgency. The film’s most interesting stylistic element is probably the inclusion of a song score performed by the great Linda Ronstadt, since her soulful vocals capture the angst of the storyline. Holding the whole thing together, of course, are the key performances. Field does an excellent job of complicating her good-girl image, often venturing to places of deep emotion, and Bradbury is terrific as a confused young woman who perceives herself as a victim even though she’s really a spoiled brat. Carradine, Cooper, and Parker inhabit their subordinate roles skillfully.
Maybe I’ll Come Home in the Spring: GROOVY