A New Leaf (1971)

ELAINE MAY

Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BBBB.  USA, 1971.  , , .  Screenplay by , based on the story The Green Heart by .  Cinematography by .  Produced by , , .  Production Design by , .  Costume Design by Film Editing by , .  Golden Globe Awards 1971.  

Spoiled, overgrown trust fund kid has found out that he has no money left after years of reckless spending, and having grown accustomed to a lifestyle of butlers and personal tailors, has no intention of downsizing.  He borrows a sizable pile of funds from his disdainful uncle () on the proviso that he will pay it back in six weeks with interest, or else give up all his possessions, then goes on the lookout for a wealthy woman he can dupe into marriage (and then murder).  The situation doesn’t look very hopeful until he attends an afternoon event at which he meets a clumsy botanist (writer-director , doing superb work in all three jobs) who is also an heiress.  As put off as he is by her low brow ways (she just loves those Mogen David wine coolers with soda and lime), he lays the romance on thick and she agrees to marriage in a matter of days, against the objection of her greedy lawyer ().  Starting at the core inspiration of screwball comedies and Ealing films like The Ladykillers, May takes off into her own style of brilliant comedy, the kind of long-con setups she loves in which the humour comes from meticulous observations of awkward human interactions.  The film was reportedly cut down by the studio after May handed in a three hour version that they refused to release and some of the pruning shows (particularly in the ending), though even in its truncated form it’s likely that the director’s passion for creating a sense of unease and watching it play out in subtle and elaborate ways didn’t exactly read as commercial to profit-minded executives.  What remains of this battle, though, is a great film that still speaks to her genius, and to the tragedy of her having only made three films since.

 

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