2019, NR, 95 min. Directed by Jocelyn DeBoer, Dawn Luebbe. Starring Jocelyn DeBoer, Dawn Luebbe, Beck Bennet, Mary Holland, Julian Hilliard, Neil Casey, D'Arcy Carden, ’Icee' the Dog.
REVIEWED By Josh Kupecki, Fri., Oct. 25, 2019
Why do we love satires of suburban life? Is it the distillation of society into complete and utter banality? Is it the way most depictions often end in an emotionless purgatory we all hope to avoid, or perhaps escape (or worse, embrace)? Is it a creative canvas where middle class morals get skewered? A reflection of a particular insular way of life, a life of denial and resignation, exposed like some festering, open wound, the shadow of some idealistic ghost of the mid-20th century forever haunting us with unattainable expectations that ultimately end up being a placebo that hides our own fragility? Yes, these themes are why we love them. Witnessing the dismantling of a certain Norman Rockwell world assuages our own insecurities while at the same time assuring ourselves that this fate will never befall us.
These themes are the through line for Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe’s feature debut, Greener Grass. The duo have been veterans of the Upright Citizens Brigade comedy troupe for almost a decade. Expanding on their short of the same name, they have fashioned an incredibly funny and absurdist world set in these domestic minefields of children's birthday parties and baby showers, all within the confines of little boxes by the hillside, little boxes made of ticky-tack.
We open on a children’s soccer game (naturally). Jill (DeBoer) and Lisa (Luebbe) sit in the stands, half-heartedly cheering on their progeny. Lisa eventually notices that Jill is holding her newborn baby, and makes a compliment about her. Jill then blithely offers the baby to Lisa, much as one would offer up the remaining french fries of a fast food meal. It is this exchange (both literal and figurative) that drives the narrative thrust of the film, but more importantly establishes a certain surrealist tone the film whole-heartedly embraces. From everyone driving golf carts and having braces to the nonchalant way the women have trouble discerning who exactly their husband is, Greener Grass succeeds in maintaining an incredibly specific tone as it weaves a web of increasingly ludicrous scenarios. DeBoer and Luebbe are clearly having a blast concocting this pastel (so much pastel!) world of conformity.
Presented as a series of culminating sketches that form a patchwork of a narrative, Greener Grass feels sometimes episodic, but it can be an incredibly entertaining romp through the picket fence yards of an America that only exists in our collective unconscious. From DeBoer’s perfect cadence of Jill’s voice (disaffected, perplexed acceptance) and an amazingly awkward cameo by Jim Cummings (Thunder Road) as a (maybe) boyfriend to a murdered resident, to Jill’s bedwetting son suddenly turning into a dog (yes, it’s that kind of movie), the film feels like someone threw Buñuel into a blender with the Zucker Brothers, with a dash of Tim & Eric. Greener Grass is not merely a fractured view of this suburban life; it’s a full-on earthquake.