Ed Norton takes a note from likes of Michael Cera (Youth in Revolt) and Sam Rockwell (Moon) in his new film, Leaves of Grass, playing the opposites side of the same coin — Billy, the academic, and his brother Brady, the stoner. The film, directed by Tim Blake Nelson, surrounds the Kincaid twins (again, both played by Norton) and the dark shenanigans that ensue when the hippie half tricks the other into returning to their small hometown of Oklahoma. If you’re a fan of Norton, Grass may be the perfect drug. The film is very much character-driven, and delivers two different helpings of Norton flavor. Beyond the stimulating textures of Billy and Brady, however, the film is mostly mellow with occasional hits of complexity and violence.
Billy and Brady were both raised in the small town of Idabel before Billy went on to become a prestigious thinker at Brown. Brady, on the other hand, remained in Oklahoma and become a prestigious grower of pot. Despite obvious differences, the two are cut from the same cloth. Billy is hard-and-fast when it comes to classic philosophy, while Brady is equally stubborn when it comes to classic country. Nelson does an excellent job of artfully surfacing the pair’s similarities by focusing on their differences.
Brady tricks Billy into returning to the small hometown to help him slip out of a now sour drug transaction. Pug Rothbaum, played by Richard Dreyfuss, is the noteworthy (if not notorious) neighborhood Jew that lends Billy the seed money to start his hydroponic pot business. With a baby on the way and Pug demanding his money quicker and quicker, Billy aims to retire from his weed ways. That always works, right?
Grass is a lot of fun when watching the interactions between the twins — impressively rendered, considering the small budget and quick shooting schedule — and the measured scenes of dialogue; one between Norton and his possible love interest, Janet (Keri Russell), is particularly well executed. When the plot gets moving, however, the film’s jerky turns (many of which are violent) are enough to give you whiplash. Nelson, despite an eye toward subtlety early on, uses some particularly jarring sequences to advance the plot down its intended path, causing Grass to feel a bit artificial. The film provides a few good laughs, still, but it isn’t an especially well-balanced hit.