Leaves of Grass is a stoner drug comedy and a violent crime drama. It's an erudite exploration of classical philosophy and literature, and an authoritative report on being Jewish in Oklahoma. It's also an opportunity for Edward Norton to play identical twins an Ivy League classics professor named Bill and a tattooed Oklahoma drug dealer named Brady. Written like a picaresque novel by O Brother, Where Art Thou?'s Tim Blake Nelson he also directs and costars as Brady's sidekick the movie bubbles with intellectual curiosity and narrative ambition.
And for that I dig it, even if Leaves of Grass has the habit of swerving and sometimes lurching from tone to tone. You don't have to squint hard to see the influence of Joel and Ethan Coen on both the film's content and its bemused-in-the-heartland visual style (the brothers are the first ones thanked in the credits). But Nelson who, not coincidentally, grew up Jewish in Oklahoma and studied classics at Brown University has a menschy generosity. The scenes between the academic brother (Norton does lovely work juggling his two roles) and Keri Russell as an Oklahoma teacher-poet (no cartoon Okie, she) are sweet with romance. And the work of a rabbi has rarely been shown in a warmer light than the one the director shines on his own wife, Lisa Benavides, in the spiritual role. B+