DIRECTED BY TIM BLAKE NELSON
STARRING: EDWARD NORTON, MELANIE LYNSKEY, KERI RUSSELL, SUSAN SARANDON, RICHARD DREYFUSS AND TIM BLAKE NELSON.
I believe there are two ways of looking at a movie that you decidedly want to review: One would be to take everything that it stands for and everything it conveys for granted, and maybe even derive the higher pleasure of drinking into it, of admiring it, getting overwhelmed at the content and stupefied by the effect of the same. Roger Ebert, I fancy, is one of that kind and I do not blame him, for that is one form, to be led. The other would be to question, to resolve to remain cynical, to not believe. And although led by substantially convincing performances by Edward Norton and Edward Norton, I see ‘Leaves of Grass’ as an incredible ‘So What?’ venture.
It’s a dual role, no spoiler intended. And as goes with anything that has identical people in it, there’s a looming switch of places, a disastrous circumstance that’s only convincingly ‘not expected’, because it is simply never shown to be. Starts with a brilliant philosophy lesson, Socratic, with Edward Norton garnering all admiration that’s required so as to not end up with a null when the end credits roll. It is then to be succeeded by a question of virtue ethics involving an ‘excited’ female student (who surprises later to be a very weak sub plot) only to divert to an internal argument of home against ambition. What was potentially a schoolroom drama takes this ‘Sweet home Alabama’ twist, but we find that that’s not to take away the seriousness that only lurks: There’s Brady who’s up for that task.
The twins aren’t a world apart although the general inclination is to think that they are. If it’s Epistemology for Bill, it’s Hydroponics for Brady, and they both happen to be Jacks of their separate trades (“Are you a big thinker?”. “No”. “Are you a little of a big thinker, then?”. “Yeah, I am”. That was a lovable sequence). There’s a reference to the universality of philosophical thoughts and principles, a scene worth mentioning, where Norton had me confused for a while with Brady narrating his perception of ‘God’ to a wide-eyed Bolger (Nelson), as an equivalent to ‘parallel lines’ and how one can never prove in a finite universe that they’d never intersect, and how it’s the same case with the proof of God, who is only too perfect to be perceived by an imperfect world. I liked it. But that also provoked me to mentally retort that that actually happened to be a near-accurate description of the film in itself: Too many things in too dumb a comedy.
And there’s the poet, Janet (Keri Russell, desperately in need of a few pounds) with a cameo by Walt Whitman, who only proves to be so easily dispensable, what with his down to earth themes and relatable metaphors. But it’s she, and not Whitman who manages to win the poetry-cynic, which again brings us back to a discussion of virtue ethics, emphasizing on the numerous concepts attempted: Too much roped in, too little tamed. Susan Sarandon and Richard Dreyfuss find themselves cast as clichés: As a junkie mom and a Jewish drug dealer. Anti-Semitism is hardly a comic route, but we find it’s the most abused, what with the Coens around, and this film is a convincing Nelson-ownership of Coenism. But there’s too much of salt, the food’s overcooked and Edward is funny even when he dies, and I thought something was wrong.
‘Leaves of Grass’ is an excuse for a film. They’re kidding me.