May, as one half of the legendary comedy team Nichols and May, established herself as a comedic powerhouse on stage in the 1950s and ’60s. In 1971 she began directing films, leading to a varied yet always interesting career. Her debut, A New Leaf, is a side-splitting romp through the upper crust of New York City; it was released only after much studio meddling and a greatly reduced runtime, leading May to unsuccessfully sue Paramount to have her name removed from the film. Man baby gazillionaire Henry Graham (Walter Matthau), having irresponsibly run through his entire inheritance, is desperate to hold onto his status. He hatches a simple plan: marry into money. Forced to reconcile his extreme distaste for all things base and having few options, he takes up with Henrietta Lowell (Elaine May), an unimaginably wealthy yet socially awkward botanist. May’s hilarious yet empathetic work hinges on whether Henry can put aside his desire to be alone forever and accept this most perfect of partnerships.
A New Leaf, not so much despite its editorial interventions as at least partly because of them, is nearly a masterpiece, a film of such wit and comic invention that it belongs among the great American comedies. — Calum Marsh, The Village Voice