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leaves of grass
Click for full sized poster

Leaves of Grass

Starring Edward Norton, Keri Russell, Tim Blake Nelson, Melanie Lynskey with Richard Dreyfuss and Susan Sarandon; Josh Pais, Pruitt Taylor Vince
Written and directed by Tim Blake Nelson
no website

IN SHORT: For us grownups. [Rated R for violence, pervasive language, and drug content. 104 minutes]

Over the last fifteen years we've written about the differences between mass market explodo-o-rama-fests and "this is how they taught me to do it in film school so you better recognize my subtext" full of itself arthouse stuff. We hate useless explosions as much as we do the pretentios stuff. But somewhere in between is the serious film that wiggles its toes in storylines that you wouldn't normally expect, or expect to be real, and writer/director Tim Blake Nelson's Leaves of Grass is one of those nuggets. The good news is that Nelson stuffs an incredible amount of detail into his characters and story situations. That's also the bad news as there's an overwhelming need to tidy up all the details of story and character that the film tends to run on a bit. Those preferring the art  house to the cineplex should have less problem with that; everyone else may find this to be one resolved point too many.

The bigger plus is that actor Edward Norton gets to double roles and play scenes "with" himself. That's always fun.

Leaves of Grass begins in Rhode Island, where a Professor of Classics named Bill Kincaid fends off advances from aggressive, lovestruck undergrad coeds. Wotta life. Bill is good at his job. He's been "taken to lunch" by faculty recruiters from Harvard Law School (to help said school add some moral character to their legal graduates. Very subtle, Mr. Nelson. <g>) Before leaving Rhode Island for Cambridge, Bill gets a call informing him of the death of his brother, Brady. With no father on scene and a mother (Susan Sarandon) in a nuthouse, Bill heads home to attend to the arrangements.

Brady, we should point out, is Bill's smarter and older identical twin. He's used his vast mental resources to build ever better high tech hydroponic marijuana farms, carefully breeding his plants to create ever stronger buds. Brady has, apparently, burned through $200,000 borrowed from his distributor and has yet to deliver new goods. Said distributor -- "the Jew up in Tulsa" (Richard Dreyfuss) -- needs to be pacified, which is why Bill is in this story.

Y'see Brady isn't dead. Since Bill wants nothing to do with his family or roots, lying about the death was the only way to get him back to Oklahoma. All Bill has to do is visit mom while Brady and a cohort drive up to Tulsa to deal with the moneyman.

Yes, there are Jews in Oklahoma. Writer/Director Nelson is one. Cranky's great-grandfather was another, about a century ago. At one point Dreyfuss delivers a monolog about his character's grandfather dealing tchotckes to the local farmers to make a living -- that was great-grandpa Cranky's biz (until he brought the wife over. That's a whole 'nother story...) As for the racist denigration of Dreyfuss' character; those of us Members of the Tribe have been called worse.

While Brady makes the trip to mollify the boss, Bill meets and is entranced by a high school teacher named Janet (Keri Russell). But before  he can fall head over heels, Brady returns and Bill finds himself an unwitting accessory to something illegal. We're dancing too close to the line here folks and that is all we will tell you about this story without knocking all the plot points down like dominoes and destroying the story;

"Death" in drug slang in Oklahoma, means owing more money to your distributor for high-tech hydroponic equipment that will yielding carefully cultured high tech marijuana -- than you can afford to repay. Brady has a boss to mollify.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Leaves of Grass, he would have paid . . .


Norton's performances alone make Leaves of Grass a good rental for grownups. Those preferring the arthouse kind of movie will have a real good time. See it, one way or the other.

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