Time Out says
Here, McElwee meets his second cousin John, a film buff who believes that the 1950 Gary Cooper vehicle ‘Bright Leaf’, based on a Foster Fitz-Simons novel, was inspired by their great-grandfather, who earned and lost a fortune in tobacco. McElwee laments the riches that might have been his own, as well as the suffering and grief wrought by his ancestor’s cancer-stick technology; he wonders aloud if ‘Bright Leaf’ might be a ‘cinematic heirloom, a kind of surreal home movie re-enacted by Hollywood stars’. McElwee’s theory of Tinseltown melodrama as secret documentary receives little support, however, in interviews with Cooper’s co-star Patricia Neal and Fitz-Simons’s ninetysomething widow; elsewhere McElwee chats with smokers, ex-smokers, and I’ll-quit-as-soon-as-x-happens smokers, while his lens caresses those infernally beautiful fronds of the title. Mordant and melancholy, ‘Bright Leaves’ testifies to the ways that cinema writes our lives, and vice versa.
Cast and crew