Tim Blake Nelson's Leaves of Grass is a comic thriller seen through the dual perspectives of identical twins Bill and Brady Kincaid (both played by two-time Academy Awardr nominee Edward Norton). Bill, a classical philosophy professor at Brown University, returns home upon news of his brother Brady's murder in a drug deal gone awry. Bill quickly learns that Brady's death has been grossly exaggerated, as he's swept up into one of his brother's crazy schemes. Alongside his eccentric mother (Susan Sarandon) and a beautiful woman named Janet (Keri Russell), Bill participates in his brother's wild plan, leading him on a twisted path filled with unique characters and life's most challenging questions. Also starring Richard Dreyfuss and writer-director Nelson, Leaves of Grass merges crime drama, drug comedy and classical philosophy, as it attempts to answer one of the oldest questions in the world: What does it truly mean to be happy?
Leaves of Grass
as a title, referring here to both Walt Whitman and marijuana, is indicative of this film's hybridity in regards to genre--half comedy and half brutal crime drama--and tone, which is at once irreverent and highly philosophical. Directed by Tim Blake Nelson, who also costars as the redneck pothead Bolger, Leaves of Grass
is about the troubles that follow two identical twins, philosophy professor Bill Kincaid and his marijuana-growing brother Brady, both skillfully played by Edward Norton. When Brady, the man with a criminal mind but an open heart, convinces Bill to return home to their small Oklahoma town, Bill becomes inadvertently embroiled in more than either sibling can handle. While their schemes get complicated, one meets the zany women in their lives, including Daisy (Susan Sarandon), their ex-hippie mom who at a very young age has relinquished herself to a retirement home; Brady's teen sweetheart, Colleen (Melanie Lynskey); and Bill's fling, high school teacher and poet Janet (Keri Russell), who has turned her back on the rigors of New England academic life for one of catfish noodling and Whitman's poetry. Absurd plot lines make up the comedic bulk of this film, ushered along by druggie investor Pug Rothbaum (Richard Dreyfuss), who seems to exist so that clever jokes about Jews populating Tulsa, Oklahoma, can pepper this witty satire. While many shots recall Coen brothers classics like Raising Arizona
, Leaves of Grass
still manages to distinguish itself from its obvious influences. Hilarious sets and situations, as when Bill stumbles into Brady's black-light-poster-decorated waterbed room, give this film unique style. The strangest aspects of this movie, including its waffling between comedy and drama so that one knows not, at times, when to laugh and when to squirm, become a source of its ambition. Leaves of Grass
is also well written and juggles a highly complex, almost slapstick essence with ingenuity. --Trinie Dalton