Here is a movie for our times. The plot is simple. Walter Matthau plays a completely self-centered playboy totally wrapped up in his own hedonistic and material pleasures. When he is confronted with the news he is broke, he must regain his wealth by wooing a rich woman.
He latches on to Elaine May, the most nerdy, yet endearingly simple character one could imagine. She lives in a mansion with a staff of greedy, money-grubbing servants who have taken advantage of her largesse and naivety.
The dialogue is priceless and is also what makes this a good match for our economic times. After he receives the bad news about his state of financial collapse, Walter Matthau wanders around in the beginning muttering, “I’m poor, I’m poor” in a state of disbelief.
The servants later congregate gloomily as they are confronted with the new reality. “It was a good ride” they acknowledge when they realize they can no longer rip off their employer and bilk her out of everything she rightfully owns. Elaine May is the wealthy heiress at the center of the economic storm. She plays the part brilliantly and timelessly as she trips blithely through each scene unaware of her scheming lover’s nefarious plans for her demise or for that matter of any part of her economic situation.
This is a movie for our time. The economic meltdown is the embodiment of hilarious suffering that we, the American people, can relate to in this fairy tale for today. We can relate as a society to the man who ran through vast sums of money at an alarming rate with no thought of saving for the future.
As a nation, were we not like the servants in a huge mansion dependent upon the largesse of a crumbling, erratic and unmanageable employer that could bottom out and end our joy ride at any moment? And the character of Elaine May to a large extent symbolizes the inept and tunnel-vision focus that America as a whole represents. The argument for this is that we unknowingly and unwittingly create financial havoc because of our basic philosophy of living in the “horn of plenty” with no thought as to how we sustain our lifestyle and to that end, what drives the economic engine of American prosperity.
Americans should check out “A New Leaf” in a new light when next it appears on our small screens. The crisis of 08 may be over for the moment, but the basic human principles of greed, avarice, incompetence and “irrational exuberance” will be with us for the long haul