This film stands up as one of the most sophisticated and heartfelt
ever put to celluloid. Watch it alongside "Hobson's Choice", "Hail The
Conquering Hero", "The Apartment", "Shop Around The Corner", "Father
"Trouble In Paradise", and "Love Streams". Although not a romance, "The
Ladykillers" is a black comedy with a similar tone. See if "A New Leaf"
doesn't hold up to these consensus classics.
Romance always involves the conflict between selfish vanity and naive devotion or love.
Most romantic comedies simply give up the fight at the end, and collapse into gooey, deluded sentimentality (e.g. "French Kiss", "Roxanne"). Some err in the opposite way, concluding on a bittersweet ambivalent implication that love is always dulled or compromised (e.g. "Nothing In Common", "Chasing Amy", "Purple Rose Of Cairo").
The acid test of a romantic comedy screenplay is its balance, its resolution of this issue. Can the lovers truly satisfy each other, without either one abusing or sacrificing his unique character, his intellect, his humanity?
The more starkly and intelligently these forces are presented and opposed, the more difficult the problem. Imagine, then, the most selfish, vain, sarcastic and sophisticated man imaginable, meeting and marrying (for her money) an utterly naive, pure, awkward, cloistered academic woman; a botanist.
Fans of irony enjoy silly dated romances for the stereotypes, the gratuitous sloppy honeyed sentiment, the emotional denial. "A New Leaf" does not shrink from the harsh side of the world, from the dark human character, and (except for the music) it has not dated an hour since its release.
The score may be slightly dated, mixed too high in places, but the music is sweet uptown Manhattan violin-muzak, reminiscent of "Theme From A Summer Place", so why quibble?
Henry Graham marries Henrietta Lowell intending to kill her. He is too bad to be true. Yet, his venal motives are only an exaggeration of our own. He doesn't want to be married; he wants to be free! He doesn't want to share, he wants everything for himself! He has never needed people to like him. Only now, he is desperate for money.
Henrietta, Henry's opposite, is foremost a botanist. She is a pure academic, uninitiated in the ways of sophistication, deception, vanity or power, despite her wealth. Her mind is unprejudiced, but intensely isolated, focused. She lives in a rarefied climate. Her dream in life is to discover and catalog a new species of plant, a "new leaf", which would cause her name to be modestly memorialized in the scientific literature.
These two opposites must combine in everyone. It is the problem of romance, most precisely stated. We love. We trust. Yet, we have infantile desires and vanities. We must struggle in a corrupt world that doesn't give a damn about our delicate preoccupations, to wrest from it the admiration and pleasure our dark hearts desire. We are Henry, we are Henrietta. Can these characters love each other? Can we accept, integrate ourselves?
"A New Leaf" rollicks with endlessly clever, sarcastic, inventive, trenchant dialog, reels through convoluted and finely wrought complications, revels in every character, each played by a brilliant comedian. Matthau was born to play this archetype of morbid, deranged, malevolent and dissolute urbanity. Elaine May conjures an ineffable, lethal sexiness, her myopic naivete perfectly complementing her gentle intellectual clarity. The film is an immaculate, fierce, luminous, huge-hearted gem.
A New Leaf
Action / Comedy / Romance
A New Leaf
Action / Comedy / Romance
Henry Graham is a man with a problem: he has run through his entire inheritance, and is completely unequipped to provide for himself. His childhood guardian, Uncle Harry (a deliciously mean-spirited James Coco), refuses to give him a dime, and Henry, completely unwilling to exercise the only solution he sees--suicide-- devises a plan with the help of his imaginative butler: he can make money the old-fashioned way--he can marry it. With a temporary loan from Uncle Harry to tide him over, Henry has six weeks to find a bride, marry her, and repay the money, or else he must forfeit all his property to his uncle. With only days remaining, Henry meets clumsy, painfully shy heiress Henrietta Lowell (played by director Elaine May). She's the answer to his prayers--if only Henry can overcome the obstacles placed in his path by Uncle Harry, Henrietta's lawyer, and Henry's own reluctance to wed.
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