12 March 2010

Leaves of Grass (Tim Blake Nelson, 2009)

Ed Norton stars in this quirky indie movie as a pair of twins. Bill is a philosophy professor at Brown University. He seems to be a rising star in the philosophy community. Meanwhile, his brother Brady is a zany white trash pot dealer with a warehouse full of state of the art equipment for his hydroponic marijuana production. Or something. We're told repeatedly that he's even more brilliant than his snooty brother but there's not much evidence of that on display. He's engaged to Melanie Lynskey, who's knocked up with this baby and he's pledged to quit smoking pot once the baby is born. Their mother has moved out of the house and into a retirement home, despite being relatively young and able, because she doesn't want to get caught in the middle of everything when Johnny Law comes raining down. Bill is lured, under false pretenses, back to Oklahoma because the brilliant white trash brother has an inane plan to get the Jewish drug kingpin (Richard Dreyfuss) in Tulsa off of his back. You see, Brady borrowed a lot of money from the Jew a year ago and hasn't paid anything back, though he's been selling to him at a discount. The Jew wants him to start manufacturing hard drugs like meth and so forth but Brady isn't having it. Things naturally go awry in a awry half-baked sort of way. Don't worry, there's time for Bill to meet and fall in love with Keri Russell, a well-adjusted high school teacher who inexplicably hangs out with Brady and his white trash friends. There's also this drama with a trumped up sex scandal back at brown but I'm not even sure what it's doing there since it's not really ever dealt with or anything. I suppose it's supposed to be about how the shit is raining down on him but it's so predictable and hollow, I just didn't buy it. I love though the way these movies always have the professor giving his dopey college lesson because they're always so cheesy and hilarious. There's also a part where English teacher Keri Russell tells Brown philosophy professor about Walt Whitman and blank verse. Um, okay, the guy is apparently familiar with chapter and verse of Latin poetry and so forth and he needs Keri Russell to give him some kind of remedial English schmaltz about Walt Whitman? And the movie has a moral, too. It's about balancing freedom with order. And, apparently, drinking lemonade in the rain. Also, Netflix said this movie had Rhea Perlman in it, but based on my eyeballs and IMDB, that's not true. Perhaps they mixed her up with her daughter, who plays Ed Norton's enamored student.

So, we've seen that the writing wasn't great. I don't know why Ed Norton took a pay cut because he was so desperate to make this movie except, "What ever happened to Ed Norton?" I seriously thought he might be in a drug binge somewhere but I guess he's just been making movies I haven't seen. The twin effect is rendered about as effectively as it was in the great Bette Davis twin movies of 1946 and 1964, although it's more reminiscent of a straight to video children's movie from the 80s or 90s. Technically, the film is about what you'd expect for a low budget movie like this. The acting is fair to good. The stars are mostly likable and they pretty much carry the movie, to the extent that it's carried. According to IMDB Lindsay Lohan auditioned for a part. I don't think she was right for any of the parts in the movie but they should have written a small part for her...

The one thing that struck me as a little strange was the amount of Jewish characters on the periphery. Aside from Richard Dreyfuss as the ultra Zionist drug dealer, you have a deranged orthodontist and his loud family, as well as their know-it-all rabbi and the love-struck student played by Lucy Devito. There's a moment where Ed Norton and the rabbi were talking and he wants her to know that something wasn't anti-semitic and she didn't believe him and really didn't even allow him to explain himself though she did give him some pretty sage advice about life. To repair. Because we are everyone of us breaking the world. So the best we can do is try to repair it. Or something. It worked for me. Anyway, it seemed weird that all of these tangential characters were Jewish, especially given that they're not all that sympathetic. It turns out that writer/director Tim Blake Nelson is Jewish. I guess that sort of makes sense. I guess most of the tangential gentile characters are unsympathetic as well. I guess Mr. Nelson was pretty damned happy to get out of Oklahoma and away from those rednecks and those Tulsa Jews... C-

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