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A New Life(1988)
Steve Giardino, an abrasive workaholic Wall Streeter, and his wife Jackie divorce after twenty-six years of marriage and find themselves thrust back into the dating world in middle age and in search of a new life.
For more about A New Life and the A New Life Blu-ray release, see A New Life Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on March 6, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Alan Alda, Ann-Margret, Hal Linden, Veronica Hamel, John Shea, Mary Kay Place
Director: Alan Alda
» See full cast & crew
A New Life Blu-ray Review
An Unmarried Couple.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, March 6, 2013
Alan Alda will always be Hawkeye for millions of viewers (or perhaps Arnold Vinick for a younger generation), but like a lot of "overnight successes", he had been tooling about in show business for years before he was able to firmly grasp the brass ring. Broadway fans know that Alda co-starred in (and was Tony nominated for) the charming little set of one acts by Fiddler on the Roof's team of Bock and Harnick, The Apple Tree, a show which won star Barbara Harris a well deserved Tony. And he had a number of interesting if not overly successful film roles pre-M*A*S*H, including the George Plimpton biopic Paper Lion and the horror thriller The Mephisto Waltz. (Sandwiched in between those two films is a really interesting "little" film called Jenny which features Alda and a surprisingly effective Marlo Thomas in a film about an unplanned pregnancy that is quite touching and which I personally highly recommend.) Alda's cachet was considerably heightened by M*A*S*H, of course, and he easily matriculated into occasional film roles during that show's incredibly long run, but like a lot of actors, what Alda "really wanted to do was direct", and in fact, to write. Alda wrote the rather prescient politically themed film The Seduction of Joe Tynan (reuniting with his Apple Tree co-star Barbara Harris), and both wrote and directed the well received The Four Seasons in 1981. In some ways, A New Life from 1988 might be thought of as a fifth season, for it returned Alda to the same sort of examination of relationships that had been at least somewhat missing from his interim property, Sweet Liberty, a film that distinctly failed to recapture the box office and critical acclaim that had greeted The Four Seasons. While A New Life has a certain carbon copy feeling to it (at times echoing both the 1978 Jill Clayburgh film An Unmarried Woman as well as the 1980 Shirley MacLaine opus Loving Couples), Alda's fine ear for dialogue and his smart decision not to "take sides" in portraying the after effects of a divorce lends the film a certain enjoyable, if slightly derivative feeling, quality.
We meet our focal couple in the throes of their impending divorce. Steve (Alan Alda) is a harried stockbroker who definitely brings his job home with him—if he gets home, that is. Jackie (Ann-Margret) is an attractive but frustrated woman who has devoted her life to her husband and child but who has little to show for it. A New Life deals a little discursively with the "elephant in the room", until we get the expected showdown in some attorneys' offices when Steve is forced to sign the final divorce decree. Suddenly it all comes spilling out, and it's obvious that Steve is confused, befuddled and more than a little angry that he's being dumped by Jackie. Jackie on the other hand exhibits a kind of quiet desperation just to get it all over as quickly and painlessly as possible.
Alda follows these likable (if, in the case of Steve, pretty annoying) characters as they chart their new journeys after marriage. Steve is urged into the singles' life by his horndog coworker Mel (Hal Linden), a skirt chaser who would have been right at home in Mad Men. Jackie has a somewhat tamer best friend named Donna (Mary Kay Place), who nonetheless encourages Jackie to get back in the saddle herself. The first part of the film explores the faltering attempts by both of the recently divorced to even find a suitable date, let alone a relationship. Steve has an especially unfortunate incident that has one of the film's nicest payoffs much later in the story.
Jackie's suggestion that they go to a meet and greet together ends in disaster for Steve, but Jackie meets an aspiring artist nicknamed Doc (John Shea) with whom she begins a more serious relationship. A panic attack on the part of Steve finally brings a suitable new woman into his life courtesy of a real doctor named Kay (Veronica Hamel). This second section of the film shows both Jackie and Steve seemingly getting what they wanted, but perhaps getting more than they bargained for.
A New Life really isn't a laugh out loud comedy, and in fact a lot of the film has a rather bittersweet quality. What's refreshing about the film is that Alda doesn't play to the lowest common denominator. Steve is fairly prickly, but he's also a character who's trying (albeit failing most of the time) to change his ways. Jackie is a somewhat different case, a woman who initially finds some release in the devotion Doc shows her, but who soon feels smothered by the attention. Both of these approaches are realistic and refrain from finger pointing or cheap shots.
Alda utilizes his New York setting nicely, perhaps not as intuitively as, say, Woody Allen (another writer-director with whom Alda ended up working), but smartly enough to give a real feel for time and place. But it's the characters here who hold sway, which is exactly as it should be. While Steve and Jackie are obviously the focal points, Alda wisely gives enough meat to Doc and Kay to make them also become full blooded characters who elicit their own share of empathy and/or antipathy.
The performances here are uniformly excellent, but special merit must be given to Ann-Margret, who has never been lovelier nor indeed more intelligent seeming. Jackie has her foibles, and Ann-Margret is able to bring those elegantly to the surface without "indicating". She's both heartbreakingly vulnerable and remarkably steely throughout this film, sometimes in the same scene. Her final scooter ride through Manhattan is like an exultant shout of victory after a long and hard fought battle.
A New Life Blu-ray, Video Quality
A New Life is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Olive Films with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.78:1. This high definition presentation offers a suitably sharp and well defined image, albeit in that sometimes grainy and somewhat soft ambience that was so popular in the late eighties. The elements have a few minor blemishes blotting the premises, but they're relatively inconspicuous. In a couple of nighttime scenes, grain increases to near digital noise levels. Otherwise, though, this offers good color and nice fine object detail, especially in close-ups. As is typically the case with these Olive releases, there's no sign of digital sharpening or noise reduction.
A New Life Blu-ray, Audio Quality
A New Leaf features a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track that offers excellent reproduction of the dialogue and copious underscore cues. If Alda's The Four Seasons was a clear allusion to Vivaldi, here he and composer Joseph Turrin exploit the music of Bach, including some great jazzy renditions of some Bach chestnuts. (That's the fantastic Sally Stevens performing vocalese on the opening credits. Though she's not officially credited as such, my gut feeling is she's the equally fantastic lead singer on the elegant Swingle Singers-esque "South American Getaway" from Burt Bacharach's memorable score to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.) I also have to give a shout out to two great jazz artists from my home town of Portland, keyboardist-vocalist Tom Grant and guitarist-composer Dan Balmer, who contribute "Girl Heaven" to the soundtrack. There's nothing really showy about this track, and it's obviously narrow, but fidelity is excellent and everything is prioritized smartly and cleanly.
A New Life Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
There are no supplements of any kind on this Blu-ray disc.
A New Life Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
A New Life has a pretty trite setup and follow through, but it's remarkably facile nonetheless. Alda has always been an extremely smart writer, and that intelligence comes through loud and clear throughout this film. All four major characters —Steve, Jackie, Doc and Kay—are distinct individuals and while they're all incredibly articulate, they're not archly so. In fact it's Alda's naturalistic dialogue that is one of this film's most lasting pleasures. A New Life was marketed as a comedy, and while there's no denying there are some good laughs sprinkled through the film, it's really more of a bittersweet examination of several characters going through rather epochal changes in their midlives. This Blu-ray offers excellent video and audio and comes Recommended.
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