A NEW LEAF (1971)
Co-written and Directed by Elaine May
Available on Dual Format from Eureka Entertainment
Rich bachelor boy Henry Graham (Walter Matthau) loses control of his finances and finds himself penniless having spent all of his inheritance. Mortified at the thought of having to live working class and to get a job, with which he has no talent or skills to speak of, his butler encourages him to find a wealthy woman to marry and support his decadent and elite lifestyle. Borrowing $50,000 from his uncle, Henry keeps up appearances that he is still living the life of luxury whilst trying to find a suitable wife but with only six weeks to pay back the loan from his uncle or lose everything, he better be quick about it. Could clumsy botanist Henrietta Lowell (Elaine May) be the woman to save him?
I hadn’t a clue about A NEW LEAF when it landed in my hands to review. The only thing I knew was that it starred Walter Matthau and was a romantic comedy. “Oh great!” I thought, sarcastically. Well, I take it all back because this oddball, sweet comedy is an hour and 42 minutes of pure genius and I do not use that term lightly. With the opening scenes of Henry being towed in his Ferrari or having it “operated” on by mechanics rather than driving the thing, due to the ol’ “carbon on the valves”, and that of Henry doing everything he can to avoid the phone call from his lawyer Beckett, I knew I was watching something special and, crucially, very funny. I sometimes struggle to find comedy movies entertaining but I can confidently say that this film had me chuckling throughout.
A NEW LEAF is exceptionally well written which is no mean feat as comedy is a very hard thing to get right. Comedian Elaine May has taken Jack Ritchie’s story and created a wonderfully witty and charming script as well as directing the stellar cast of stars and playing the leading female role too. Is there anything this woman can’t do? Her clutz of a character Henrietta proves to be more infantile than pompous Henry, leaving crumbs wherever she eats (sounds familiar) and generally not being able to look after herself nor her assets properly. At the beginning of the movie, this is very much the life of Henry’s too, played perfectly by the ever-expressionistic Walter Matthau, though his quest to find a wife and secure their bond in order to gain her trust and wealth means he begins to take a vested interest in Henrietta, both in her profession as a botanist and in her assets of which are out of control. He doesn’t realise it but Henrietta brings Henry purpose, something he’s never had before and never needed when life was handed to him on a silver platter.
What I love about A NEW LEAF is that it isn’t a one man show. All the supporting cast have their time to shine and offer strokes of brilliance to the film, be it with witty one-liners or certain comedic glances. The pace of the film never slows up either and keeps a nice upbeat momentum that carries the viewer through the film with a grin on their face throughout. This is a very hard film to dislike and even though I’m a horror fan at heart, A NEW LEAF has won me over with its tweeting bird sounds and obsessions with ferns.
Eureka Entertainment have released A NEW LEAF in dual format DVD and Blu-Ray with a new high definition digital transfer with exclusive image restoration with monaural sound on the Blu-Ray. It’s a brilliant transfer with an interesting video essay from critic David Cairns as an extra. The release also comes with a 32 page booklet featuring new and older writings on the film accompanied by archival images.
Charming, quirky and endearing, A NEW LEAF is an absolute hoot of an American rom-com which deserves to be seen by everyone.