A NEW LEAF – DECIDING BETWEEN MATRIMONY AND MURDER

AUDIO OPTION OF A NEW LEAF REVIEW:

*SHORT TAKE:

Classic dark comedy of a destitute playboy who plans to marry  wealthy and then…murder.

WHO SHOULD WATCH:

While there is little profanity and no sex, the topics of living desolutely and planning homicide are somewhat unseemly for children, though, with parental discretion, perhaps younger teens.

LONG TAKE:

I would venture to say that none of you have ever heard of the movie A New Leaf. Penned, directed and starring Elaine May, co-starring the iconic Walter Matthau, this is a small budget film made in 1971 based upon the short story, The Green Heart, by Jack Ritchie. The protagonist, Henry Graham, (Matthau) is a self-absorbed, self-indulgent aristocratic heir who runs through his family fortune until, in his late thirties, finds himself without friends or fortune. There is only one person in the world who cares anything about him, Harold (the delightful singer and Shakespearean theatrical actor, George Rose), Henry’s valet, who sums up the basis for his loyalty to Henry in this one speech: “How many men these days require the services of a gentleman’s gentleman? How many men have your devotion to form, sir? You have managed, in your own lifetime Mr. Graham, to keep alive traditions that were dead before you were born.”

Of course, Harold tempers this with the warning that if Mr. Graham continues to be poor, he immediately tenders his two week notice.

Henry quickly realizes that, for him, there are only two options: suicide…………….or marrying rich. With Harold’s aide Henry embarks on a quest to find a rich widow or single heiress who would be tolerable to his refined tastes and isolated ways. He soon discovers that while there are MANY candidates, he can’t stand any of them…until he finds the least suitable one of all. An extremely wealthy but ugliest of ugly ducklings, Henrietta Lowell (Elaine May – also the author and director of this brilliant story) is shy, socially awkward, clumsy, naive, and gullible. She is everything Henry would NOT want in a mate… aside from the money. However, it suddenly occurs to him, she would be quite easy to —— murder.

So begins the courtship and honey-murder, I mean —moon of one of the most charming little comedies I have ever seen. It is ultimately a film about the power of love, redemption and poetic justice, but told in the singularly most UN-conventional and UN-sentimental way I have ever seen demonstrated.

I REALLY am not going to spoil this one for you. You can now find it on Amazon HERE.

I recommend this movie as one of my all time favorites. As I mentioned before,  A New Leaf COULD be appropriate, with parental supervision, for young teens, and worth the trouble given the moral and theme of the story. Henry is quite chaste. There is very little profanity and no sex. Henry’s SOLE vice is avarice. The only questionable moment is when one socialite attempts to seduce him and Henry, in a breathtaking moment of humor, literally runs screaming from her.

Walter Matthau is at his finest in a brilliant example of miscasting gone right. Aside from Hello Dolly, I can’t think of a less appropriate vehicle for Matthau. But – as in Hello Dolly – he is such an amazing actor that he pulls off the deliciously arrogant and thoroughly self-centered Henry while making him – somehow – adorable.

Elaine May is perfectly terrific as the totally INcapable Henrietta Lowell. Vulnerable, dependent, socially oblivious and educated to the point of being a blithering idiot in everything except her one field of interest – botony – May creates a child-like character who is both endearing and extremely annoying at the same time. You come to understand why Henry would consider killing her yet dread her disappearance.

May is probably not very familiar. She made her biggest mark with Mike Nichols as half of an improvisational comedy duo and did a good deal of stage work. She was in only about a dozen films, including a teensy part in The Graduate, wrote only 10 screenplays and despite her obvious talent directed only four movies, probably because of her tendency to go way over budget. As an aside, one of her directorial efforts was Ishtar, the biggest and most expensive flop in history at that time.

But she did manage to produce this beautiful blossom of a movie. And that, alone, should be enough to decide on… A New Leaf.

  • NOTE: This is a re-release of a post from 2015. Since then I have added photos and the movie has become available on streaming services.

YESTERDAY – WHAT IF YOU WERE THE ONLY ONE WHO REMEMBERED IT?

 

SHORT TAKE:

A humorous Twilight Zone-like examination of a desperate musician who discovers he’s the only person who remembers either the Beatles or any of their songs.

WHO SHOULD WATCH:

Were it not for the profanity and casual blasphemy, this could have been a family friendly film. As it is, parental discretion should be advised for the language.

LONG TAKE

Quick, how many Beatles songs can you name off the top of your head? And can you recite all the lyrics with no Google information, no sheet music, no records..not even a little help from your friends (see what I did there….?) This is the challenge facing Jack, (Himesh Patel) a desperately frustrated musician whose only fan is his childhood friend and manager-by-default, Ellie (Lily James – Branagh’s Cinderella, Mamma Mia!, Darkest Hour).

Having decided to quit music and return to teaching, Jack is hit by a bus during a freak, unexplained, 12-second, global electrical outage. After recovering from relatively minor injuries, he discovers he’s the only person on earth who remembers either the Beatles or any of their songs. At first he thinks his friends are “having him on”. But after an internet search confirms the truth, he proceeds to embark upon a plan to pass the Beatles’ entire repertoire off as his own.

Yesterday‘s script is both warm and cleverly insightful. This is not a surprise given the writer is Richard Curtis, author of the immensely charming About Time and one of my favorite Dr. Who episodes: “Vincent and the Doctor”. Curtis has a gift for combining pathos, romance and humor to create a view into fundamental tenets of human nature.

Although dealing with some fairly mature philosophical concepts, including the ethics of his plans and what constitutes success and happiness, Yesterday is, for the most part, a light-hearted vehicle. The screenplay writer plays this straight. There are no “backsies” and this isn’t a dream. Jack must deal with the pros and cons of the permanently changed world as he wakes up to it. What would you give up to have everything you ever thought you wanted? What are the moral implications of taking something as your own when the people who created it never existed? Would you confide this secret even to the people with whom you are closest, knowing they probably wouldn’t believe you? Interesting conundrums.

Directed by Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire), it’s also funny, often in the kind of familiar human moments where you either laugh or cry. Some of the most fun bits are following Jack as he racks his brain trying to remember all of the Beatles songs and lyrics with absolutely no help.

Kate McKinnon plays the shark-like LA manager who swoops down to Jack’s small coastal British home town to put him under contract. She is callously and bluntly honest. There is no cruelty in it, because her character simply doesn’t care one way or the other about the impact what she says has on others. She just has no filter. I would not have been terribly surprised had she asked Jack to sign his contract with a drop of his own blood plucked from a demonic looking fountain pen, except she doesn’t  lie. But I genuinely liked this character. There was something very refreshing about her extremely candid approach.

Joel Fry (Game of Thrones) is Rocky, Jack’s mostly unemployable, but devoted friend.

The music is, of course, wonderful. Not quite “covers” of these universally known classics, as Jack tries to imitate the songs exactly as he remembers them, but not quite Beatles either as he…well, ISN’T one of the Beatles.

And no spoilers, but I suggest you watch out for a few delicious cameos.

So if you want an upbeat, adorable rom-com, which also manages to address some thought provoking points, watch this quirky movie, Yesterday…today…or at least soon.