Leaves of Grass (2010) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Leaves of Grass (2010)

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ANDREW LIKEI'm a bit surprised when it comes to movies that offer a respectful presentation of the Southern United States.  I have to admit, I'm biased because I'm from Georgia, and I had to work hard to shed my accent before learning to love it again.  Leaves of Grass has some very potent insights on why I had to do that, or to be more appropriate, felt like I had to.  It's one moment that will leave many wondering about the things that we have to do to get by, and the film is filled with them.

Edward Norton gets a difficult role as identical twins Bill and Brady Kincaid.  Bill is the more academically successful of the two, teaching a philosophy class to a group of enthralled students and is offered the opportunity to start a law department elsewhere.  Brady is equally successful, but as a pot grower and dealer with a wife and kid on the way.

Norton's performance as Brady threw me off a bit in the beginning.  It sounded to self consciously Southern, a bit too quirky with the long vowels and mannerisms.  But when he was Bill it seemed more "natural" to the character.  However, I was dead wrong about Brady.  Both brothers have to adapt mannerisms appropriate to their environments so that they can "belong".  In many ways Brady is a lot smarter than Bill, and tries to be more original in his philosophies.  Brady has to work to hide his intellect in the same way Bill has to work to hide his roots.

Returning to your roots can be every bit as discombobulating as this looks.

That twist on "belonging" is just one of the many great themes at play in Leaves of Grass, which puts on the facade of a stoner comedy/drama while behaving as something more ambitious.  We have the philosophy woven into a plot, which involves Brady's convoluted scheme to rid himself of his debts before he starts his family.  He has a great insight into the solution to this problem, and finds a good use for his brother.

I don't want to reveal too much more, as the film builds on twists and secrets that hide in plain sight.  But I find myself returning to that wonderful dialogue again and again.  Bill, Brady, and many of the other characters in the film know how to fight with words, to hide meanings like a dagger when the conversation isn't going well.  The various verbal duels and casual conversations that litter the script are absolutely wonderful, and showcase Tim Blake Nelson's ear for ambitious conversation that feels totally natural to the plot.

One moment in particular struck me like a lightning bolt.  Tim Blake Nelson has a role in the film as Brady's best friend (as well as being the director, writer, and producer).  They're travelling along a dusty road while Brady very eloquently explains why he still believes in God.  Because of why they're travelling, it makes perfect sense to see why his thoughts would turn to that subject.  But Norton allows Brady to drop the act, and just confide in his best friend.  It's one of the best scenes of any film this year.

Trying to do the right thing and keep up appearances don't always work well together.

There is a lot to love about Leaves of Grass that it's shortcomings really hurt.  I wish that there was more substantial material for Susan Sarandon as Bill and Brady's mother, and Bill's potential love interest played by Keri Russell is an intriguing character that needed more scenes.  But they both make the most of their time onscreen and Keri Russell delivers a dynamite performance in her brief time.

Leaves of Grass hasn't had the easiest time getting released.  I can see why, the opening segments promise a comedy (and, I might add, are the weakest part of the movie) and then it slowly develops into something dreamily philosophical before finally plunging into a brief nightmare.  This is one of the best films of 2010, and I hope that it's ambition doesn't keep it from reaching more people.

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Leaves of Grass (2010)

Written and directed by Tim Blake Nelson.
Starring Edward Norton, Tim Blake Nelson, Susan Sarandon and Keri Russell.

Posted by Andrew

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