SXSW Film: Leaves of Grass is High Art

Every time I hear that Edward Norton is making a new film I tend to pay close attention. Through out his career, he has only made a few missteps and usually produces Indie gold. Leaves of Grass is no different and it gives Norton a chance do something he hasn’t done since Death to Smoochy, be funny. Aside from The Hulk, Norton usually goes with the emotionally straining roll, that at times, can leave you in tears, but in Leaves of Grass he proves that he can do it all and leave the audience crying with laughter with a contact high as they leave the theater.

Leaves of Grass is the story of two identical twins that are very successful at what they do but couldn’t be any more different. Bill is a philosophy professor that is well on his way to teaching at Harvard, it seems nothing can stop him as he flies through the sky with wings of wax, that is until he receives a call that his brother Brady had been shot with a crossbow. Crossbows seem to be “ironically popular ” in their home town of Little Dixie, Oklahoma. When Bill returns home for his brother’s funeral, he finds himself knee deep in the issues of his past and the criminal activity of his pot-dealing “Hydroponic” brother.

When I first heard the concept behind Leaves of Grass, I was excited, mostly because of the fact that Norton would be playing two rolls. It takes a great talent to play two rolls in one film especially when they are polar opposites like Bill and Brady. Norton executes both roles with ease giving each character their own unique traits. Norton had me in tears I laughed so hard, delivering lines like “this is how I keep it alive” while he flips the switch to a dedicated black light room. It’s the timing in which Norton delivers the lines that makes Leave of Grass so funny that I’m left with nothing but anticipation for his next comedic roll.

Norton’s supporting cast is, on it’s own, nothing but stellar with the likes of Richard Dreyfuss, Susan Sarandon, and Keri Russell; how can you go wrong? Each roll plays out beautifully with a perfect balance of drama and comedy, each adding their own style to an already well rounded film.

It’s these small details that actor/writer/director Tim Nelson has added that makes this film so great, making Leaves of Grass the intelligent stoner comedy it is, yeah I said intelligent stoner comedy. Leaves of Grass gives the viewer the option to sit back and enjoy the film or dig deeper into it’s sub-content for true enlightenment. Like the Coen Brothers, Nelson has created something that I would be proud to have in my movie collection.

The only thing that keeps the film out of my favorite movie list is the cinematography. I’m usually a huge fan of the use of HD cameras in a movie and I see the benefit in Indie films every day. The only problem is that here like many other films you get that TV movie feel, making it harder to connect with the characters. I need the camera to help me understand the emotion and a darker feel would have helped Leaves of Grass tremendously. Though Nelson did interesting things with the camera they were just too few and far between to break through that HD feel.

Leaves of Grass has it’s ups and downs, but due to in-depth writing and the standout acting of Edward Norton it has easily been one of my favorite films at SXSW and I’m sure this will remain true for the remainder of the year.

I give Leaves of Grass 4 “single serving friends” out of 5

by Ryan Davis

About Ryan Davis

Ryan is the Founder of Lost in Reviews, a member of The Kansas City Film Critic's Circle, and a key component in the movement to digitally restore the 1986 classic film The Gate. Ryan is also the co-host of Blu Monday a DVD and Blu Ray review show which Lost in Reviews co-founder Angela Davis also appears. While he may be a film and music snob, that doesn't mean you can't be friends. Well it could if you don't like the same bands or films he does, overall it might be best to avoid the subject all together.

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