Silly Sunday: Elaine May Movie’s Remade! A New Leaf, Tootsie, and Ishtar

My parents and I had a little Elaine May mini-fest last week, and I fell in love with her funny but ultimately loving sort of comic touch. And now I want to rewrite and recast all her movies for India! Because it makes me happy. Even if no one reads this post.

A New Leaf-Fussy Man Marries for Money, Falls in Love with Neurotic Wife

This movie is really hard to pull off, but if you do it right, it is one of the funnest, darkest, and also lightest rom-coms ever. And I got very excited when I realized Tabu could play the heroine. Hero, I’m still struggling with a bit.

Elaine May On Almost Getting Away With Murder in “A New Leaf ...

Our hero is a rich man who very much enjoys the good things in life. He likes his sports car, his fine wine, his good food, his fancy club. He has male friends he enjoys talking with about cars and wine and so on, but no interest in women. And then his money manager breaks the news that he has run through all his trust fund and has nothing left. He despairs, but his valet suggests there might be a solution if he were to marry, the honorable way for a man to fain money without working. He looks around at the available women and can’t stand them. A rich widow who is too sexually aggressive, another woman who insists on going to noisy parties, and so on. Finally with only a week left, he meets the perfect woman. Fabulously wealthy, and hopelessly suggestible. He plans to marry her, and then kill her.

Our heroine isn’t “cute” clumsy, she is really helpless. Constantly stumbling over her words, dropping things, getting honey stuck on her fingers, and so on. She is middle-aged, no family, devoted to her botanical research. Our hero quickly wins her over and they are married within a week. After marriage he discovers that her household staff have been stealing from her on a phenomenal level, assisted by her money manager (who had tried to stop the wedding by proposing himself). He gets her household organized, figures out how to manage her money himself, buys her new clothes, gets in the habit of brushing crumbs off her and making sure she eats right and so on. And then a few weeks later, she suggests he go with her on a research trip. He plans to kill her on the trip, only when she falls out of the boat by accident, he has a change of heart and saves her life instead. Somehow he got used to her and doesn’t want her to die.

Review: Elaine May's A New Leaf - Slant Magazine

I’m not saying it right, but it’s the strangest love story. You somehow see that, while our hero is telling himself that he is marrying for money and will kill his wife, while he is truly irritated by everything about her, down deep he really did fall in love at first sight. And that, on some deep deep level, she must have known the danger she was in and yet chose blind faith instead that it would work out. I never actually thought he would kill her, it’s just funny seeing him try and fail (reading books on poison on their honeymoon, then learning she only uses organic gardening supplies. Trying to pack a gun for the research trip, and his valet hiding it), and thinking he is in control of the situation as he becomes ever more caught up in taking care of his wife instead of himself.

Anyway, I want this in Hindi film! Tabu as our heroine, let’s say she studies pre-historic cave paintings so their research trip is off to some abandoned caves in the middle of nowhere. And our hero is Boman Irani maybe? Anyway, old Bombay money. The type who is still a little bit British, likes having high tea, enjoys his seafront south Bombay flat, goes to the polo club, and so on. He meets Tabu at a tea party, she is from old money too, has a big mansion out in Juhu/Bandra. He pretends to fall in love with her at first sight, elaborate hilarious love song with him going through the motions, and her constantly tripping over things, her corrupt money manager Anupam Kher keeps trying to make love to her and convince her to leave Boman, she ignores him, marries Boman. Boman throws her corrupt staff out of the house and hires competent new ones, buys her new clothes, organizes her life. Then they go on a research trip into the caves. There is a sudden downpour and she falls into a flood. He pretends he will help her but really walks away. Until he stumbles over a cave entrance and turns back to tell her, realizes he misses her. He rushes back and risks his life to save her, pulls her out, they embrace, and he reluctantly admits that he loves her.

Tootsie

If you haven’t seen Tootsie, you are clearly wasting your life! But just in case, I will give you the plot. Dustin Hoffman is a brilliant actor who is so difficult to work with, no one can stand him. He only has two real friends, his playwrite roommate and his female friend of 6 years, an actress, Teri Garr. Teri is up for a role in a soap opera, he helps her prepare because he is so nice like that, but when she doesn’t get it, he decides to try talking his way into an audition just to prove to his agent he can still get a role if no one knows who he is. He gets the part and starts to understand how different life is once you are seen as a woman. He also quickly becomes friends with his beautiful female co-star. He falls in love with her without being able to admit his feelings because he is pretending to be a woman. At the same time, in order to keep of the facade, he ends up having to lie to Teri Garr and break her heart. The soap opera picks up his option and he might have to stay in the charade for years, he also kisses his co-star and tells her he loves her and she thinks “he” is a Lesbian. To get out of all of this, live on camera he gives a speech declaring his character is actually a man dressed as a woman and revealing himself. His co-star is furious and punches him. His friends are also angry, but he made the money to put on his roommates play, and 6 weeks later that is what he is doing. He tracks down the co-star and talks to her, saying he is in love with her and just wants a chance. They awkwardly start over, Happy Ending.

Broadway's 'Tootsie' Musical Announces Venue, Sets Opening Date ...

It’s just a brilliant movie in how it explores the way perception changes behavior. Once Dustin Hoffman is a woman, he is treated like a woman, and immediately learns to behave more passively instead of aggressively, to work around systems of power, to listen when people talk to him, to just be a better person. And to see other women as people first, to see how the other actresses are silenced and ignored on set, the way the whole structure of the soap opera dismisses the female characters. And all of this would work sooooooooooooo well in Hindi film!!!!

Remake is easy, you cast someone known as a “good” actor as the lead. He plays a failed actor, maybe had great reviews in some parelal cinema films years earlier but now can’t get hired because he is so hard to work with. Goes up for a role in a TV soap as the new visiting aunt or something in a classic Saas-Bahu series. Starts going off-script and being feminist, becomes super popular, but then has to do a big reveal scene to get out of the contract.

Now, two questions! The first one is a bigger question. I was watching the original this time thinking “you know, I think it may have been more interesting to make him fall in love with Teri Garr”. What if the “long time female friend” character was combined with the “co-star he falls in love with” character? What if he was rehearsing her by playing the person opposite her in the scene she was auditioning for? They both get hired, he sees her in a new place and under new circumstances, becomes her friend as a woman and listens to her and gets to know her in a different way. He could go from seeing her as “friend” material because she isn’t pretty enough, or charming enough, or any of that, to seeing her in a new environment and understanding he really does kind of love her.

Tootsie (1982)
What do you think? I kind of find them more fun to watch together than Hoffman and Lange. But that could also just be because Teri Garr is so freakin’ amazing. Is there anyone in Hindi film today who could match her? I kind of want to say Swara Bhaskar, but I’m not sure.

Second is a smaller question, should Aamir Khan or Ayushmann Khurrana play the lead?

Ishtar

Unfairly maligned! It’s a fun little comedy with a great gimmick that would be SUCH a kick to translate to Indian film. Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty play two terrible singer/songwriters. Warren Beatty (traditionally attractive and famous real life ladies man) plays a shy hick whose wife left him and has no luck with women. Dustin Hoffman (traditionally not attractive) plays the cocky one who is always flirting with women. Their agent gets them a job playing at a hotel in the middle of a wartorn country. They arrive and a beautiful woman stops Dustin Hoffman at the airport to ask for use of his passport and clothes in order to sneak into the country with the map that will somehow inspired the rebels. Later Dustin Hoffman is approached by a CIA agent asking him to keep his eyes open for rebels. The woman sneaks into their hotel room that night to get her clothes back and meets Warren Beatty and convinces him to sympathize with the rebels, and tells him that Dustin Hoffman is working for the CIA. The CIA tells Dustin Hoffman that Beatty is working for the rebels. The two friends now suspect each other and stay close to each other. Both the rebels and the CIA are now sick of them and trick them into going off into the desert to die. Hoffman and Beatty somehow survive the night, the next day the CIA sends a helicopter to kill them, but Hoffman and Beatty have run into arms runners and randomly have a gun that Beatty uses to shoot at the helicopter. The CIA bring in heavy fire and come back, but by now the female rebel has found them after having a change of heart about sending them off to die, and helps them put together even heavier fire. They scare off the CIA helicopters, and end up finding the map, and their agent from New York negotiates a deal with the CIA where they get the map in return for producing an album of Beatty and Hoffman’s songs and making them famous.

Ishtar (1987): a recap (part 1 of 9) – the agony booth

It really is a funny movie! Mostly because the songs are hilariously perfectly bad. But there’s also a lot of little funny things scattered through out, like Beatty accidentally buys a blind camel who keeps running into things. But mostly the songs. Now, picture the same thing, only it’s two bad songwriters aspiring to get into Hindi film. They get a job working on a movie for some incredibly small regional industry, travel out there to discover there are Naxalite rebels overrunning the territory and the RAW are all over the place. One of them ends up being recruited to work for RAW, the other ends up being seduced by the rebels. In the end, they make a deal with RAW to get them a job on a big deal Hindi movie and make it a hit.

Can you imagine? Say Farah Khan directs, we could have Shahrukh play the Warren Beatty part, the shy guy who is terrible with women, and Boman Irani or someone to play the Dustin Hoffman role of the guy who is supposed to be great with women. We can have sooooooooooo many spoof songs thrown in as Shahrukh and Boman imagine their terrible songs on the big screen. Cameos from famous actors in the songs. And then the last 15 minutes can be the whole “real” movie that RAW funds for them. Plus we have the same cynical anti-government comedy as the original, with the Naxalites treated as idealistic but incompetent, and RAW as with too much money and no real idealogy beyond staying in control.

Okay, if anyone read this far, give me your opinion! At the very least on whether Teri Garr would have been a more interesting choice for love interest in Tootsie than Jessica Lange.

18 thoughts on “Silly Sunday: Elaine May Movie’s Remade! A New Leaf, Tootsie, and Ishtar

  1. A New Leaf…I know this film…and I love black comedy…I found Walter Matthau and Elaine May perfect in their roles…I think, Boman and Tabu could be a good match, too (I can imagine them in a similar movie).

    Tootsie…gorgeous movie…I would keep the original story because of the kind of ‘betrayal’ plot… no, for me definitely n o t Aamir or Ayushman…I feel there would be a lack of honest emotion for women’s situation. I also vote for Teri Garr as love interest

    I know Ishtar, too, but some of the movie I found rather ‘forced’ comedy (although I liked the unusual idea…maybe indeed Farah doing an intelligent spoof, but I would prefer ShahRukh with Abhishek.

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    • Yaaaay, a comment from another Elaine May fan!

      Glad you agree that Boman and Tabu could be great in A New Leaf. I’m not sure who I would want to direct though, it had to be such a light loving tone to it. Maybe Zoya-Reema?

      Who would you put as the lead of Tootsie? I want someone known as a “great actor” to add to the humor of the casting. Rajkummar maybe? Glad you agree that making Teri Garr the heroine would be interesting. Her character is kind of left behind in the original film, which is maybe the point, that Hoffman is just irredeemably selfish in the way he treats her because sometimes even “good” men suck. But I want more for her! Their friendship is handled so well, and they are truly honest with each other, he is a good friend to her without thinking about it. I would love to see that good friend feeling translated to love once he starts to see their relationship in a new way.

      Love the idea of Shahrukh with Abhishek!!!! You lose part of the humor of the “ladies man” and “not ladies man” being reversed, but not all of it, since Abhishek plays the comic role more often than Shahrukh.

      On Sun, May 24, 2020 at 12:20 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. OMG I love ‘A New Leaf’!!! Every time I watch that movie I end up falling in love with Walter Matthau and Elaine May. Their journey, from first meeting to him rescuing her and accepting his love for her is beautiful and fun and great to watch. I would love to see an Hindi version full of colors and music and hilarious scenes! And I agree, Tabu and Boman would be perfect for those roles!

    Now for the other two movies..well, I haven’t seen the last one and it’s been so long since I saw Tootsie…I’ll need to get back to you on that.

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      • Yeah…it’s such a lovely romance story…I love how she trusts him from the beginning and how he learns to become a caring, mature person while thinking how to kill her 😀

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        • Yes! It’s such a nice love story about how we find what we need, even when we don’t think we need it.

          On Sun, May 24, 2020 at 3:00 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  3. Ooohhh I’m intrigued! I remember watching Ishtar a couple of years back and finding it funny, so I’m going to have to track down the rest of these films.

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    • You should definitely watch the other two! They are both really good, irresistibly good, no one won’t like them. Ishtar is the hardest of the three and you already liked that.

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  4. Have Dustin Hoffman end up with Terri Garr is exactly the change I would make to Tootsie! I loathed that about the original movie–it’s supposed to be feminist, but if you’re not conventionally attractive, get out of the hero’s way so he can get to the hot girl. I also feel like I’m not sure this would work with the different gender ideas we have today. I’d like to see Rajkummar in it, and someone not so shiny for the Terri Garr part.

    I was also thinking Boman for A New Leaf. He’s pretty much a Parsi Walter Matthau. (Although, Irrfan would have been perfect, and he was so good with Tabu . . .)

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    • Yaaaay, it wasn’t just me that found their dynamic way more interesting than his interaction with Jessica Lange! I don’t hate the Jessica Lange story, they clearly wanted to tell the story of “you see this beautiful perfect woman, but you don’t see the person behind her”. But I would be so much more interested in the story of “you don’t see the non-beautiful woman at all, not really”.

      How would you make it happen? Combine the Lange and Garr characters, so she gets hired and Hoffman does at the same time, he sees how she is treated at work, how she is ignored and insulted for not being “pretty”, and comes to see that he did the same thing, never even considered her as a romantic prospect? Or make the Jessica Lange-Teri Garr comparison a little flipped? He is excited about this “beautiful” woman at work that he can rescue, but instead of spending time with her he finds himself lingering over dinner with his friend Teri Garr? Teri meets him somewhere in his guise as a woman, he rescues and befriends her, and starts a new relationship as a female friend and there is no Lange at all?

      I think I like the last option combined a little bit with the middle one. What if, as part of his job, he ends up meeting the “pretty” co-star as a man and accidentally says the right thing because he is remembering something she said earlier and not really thinking about it? But a the same time, he sees Teri Garr somewhere like a fancy salon while dressed as a woman, at first tries to avoid her, but then has to sweep in a rescue her when the salon lady is rude to her or something. She insists on taking him/her out to lunch as a thank you, and they end up talking for hours, he learns things about her he never knew because he never really listened to her before. And then the rest of the movie is about him dealing with the mystery of this beautiful woman from work who really likes him, where for once everything in the realtionship seems easy and he is just himself for once, but he would rather go off and have long conversations dressed as a woman with his “plain” friend. the “plain” friend can invite her new girlfriend for a weekend at her parents house and so on and so forth, but this time instead of it all being new to him, it’s stuff his done lots of times before only this time he is paying attention. Really dig into the contrast of being with people and in places as an egotistical man, versus as a woman who has to step back.

      What do you think? And we could do Rajkummar and maybe Bhumi? I’d like casting her since this was her actual life, wanting to be an actress but not having the right “look” for years. And I’d love to do Radhike Apte as the pretty soap actress, she usually plays roles where she doesn’t get to be acknowledged as pretty and she really really is. She could have a real character too, a single Mom who breaks up with her terrible director boyfriend with the encouragement of her new co-star, and then randomly bumps into a guy in the alley that night who says she looks upset and offers her a ride home as a friend, and then she is in love with him. She can end in a good place of knowing she would rather be single than with a bad person.

      Irrfan would have been perfect! But Boman is good too, I am trying to be happy with that.

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      • Maybe too cliché, but Bhumi should rescue Rajkummar in his female guise from a sexual harasser on set, and fill him on all the people he needs to be careful around and avoid. And maybe one of those people is someone that, as a guy, he had a friendly/respectful relationship with and he realizes how easy it’s been for him. Oh! and/or for some reason Raj has to go home late by himself as a woman. Like, he just forgot he was wearing a dress and he’s walking home at night and a truck full of guys starts catcalling him, and he’s genuinely afraid. And then a taxi pulls up and Bhumi yells “Get in!” and they speed off. Bhumi starts scolding him but realizes he’s upset, so they go to her place to have some tea and talk until late.

        And Radhike could be a woman he’s crushing on at work, but gradually he comes to see how everyone fawns over her but ignores Bhumi, whom he’s beginning to see as more attractive. And they talk and Bhumi just shrugs and says that’s the way it’s always been, but she’s happy with herself and she wouldn’t change the way she looks. I like Radhike having a relationship with the terrible director and Rajkummar talking her out of it. And then everyone makes it big and doesn’t have to be on the saas bahu serial anymore!

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        • So in this version, Bhumi is his friend who gets hired at the same time he does? Or Bhumi is a co-worker he just met? Because I kind of love the friendship Hoffman and Teri Garr have in the original and I want to keep that, that his closest friend who he helps with her career and really cares about and all of that happens to be a woman. But if they are both hired, and Dustin gets to know her as the person at work who guides him in being a “woman”, and starts to see her in a new light and his blindness in not appreciating her before, I could get behind that.

          On Mon, May 25, 2020 at 2:45 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • So Bhumi knows that female Raj is Raj? And he’s just more sympathetic to her concerns after being a woman? That does seem a bit less convoluted.

            I wish Bhumi and Rajkummar would really be in a movie together. I think they’d really be well matched.

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          • Nah, I want Bhumi to not know female Raj is Raj. Just think of her as this new friend from work. But Raj discovers so many more things about her as a fellow woman than he ever knew as her male friend. And Bhumi starts to feel more confident thanks to her friend. Oh! Maybe she starts to pull away from male-Raj because female-Raj advises her to have more respect for herself? And that makes male-Raj realize that he really hasn’t been treating her well?

            On Wed, May 27, 2020 at 9:32 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  5. I think Indian Cinema doesn’t have a lot of situational comedies.Not that Golmaal stuff,I mean the realistic comedies like Chashme Baddoor(the old one)and Angoor.I don’t think we have a single decent dark comedy drama,what about something like “The Favourite”?I know Shatranj ke Khiladi is a sort of comedy if you drop the historical context,BUT,it is hard to hold back your laughter when Shabana Azmi’s tries to seduce her husband(played by Sanjeev Kumar)and he is bothered about chess.

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    • Andhadhun is kind of a dark comedy in parts. Oh! And Delhi Belly! But you are right, those are the only ones I can think of.

      On Mon, May 25, 2020 at 9:36 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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