Greener Grass (2019)
Written and Directed by Jocelyn DeBoer & Dawn Luebbe
In the 21st century, there has been an influx of a new kind of anti-comedy with the work of comedians like Tim & Eric being one of many beginning touchpoints. This is humor that blends social satire and grotesque imagery, not intending to demean some other figure but often as a way for the artist to examine their own anxieties and insecurities. Much like how David Lynch explores his fears of parenthood in Eraserhead, so too do these films and television programs feature creators wanting to jump headfirst into neuroses. Greener Grass is two women’s look at a particular type of femininity and way of life that they have intense fears about.
Lisa and Jill are two women who are wives & mothers living in an unnamed suburban idyll. During a peewee soccer game, Jill is so overcome with how precious Lisa’s newborn daughter is. Lisa feels pressured and offers to give the baby to Jill, who gladly accepts. Thus, the movie begins and informs that audience we are in a surreal realm. There’s never a robust emotional response from anyone about this act, though Lisa’s husband acts mildly annoyed later when they discuss the gift. Every adult in this world has braces, and impossible things are tossed off as part of a healthy life. Lisa’s son has a host of problems and seems unable to fit in. That’s solved when he tumbles into the backyard pool and transforms into a golden retriever.
Filmmakers Jocelyn DeBoer & Dawn Lubbe worked together in an improv group at the prestigious Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, where they found a share comedic sensibility. They have brought a particular aesthetic to the movie, harshly bright colors and cinematography that can slyly transition from domestic bliss to looming dread. Things are always happening in the background of Greener Grass, newspaper headlines & sentences written on classroom chalkboards serve to world build and create unease. There’s an ongoing story talked about on the news and between characters of a local yoga teacher being murdered, and everyone’s convinced it’s a grocery store bag boy. That figure seems to be watching Lisa, mocking her and laughing at her, though only the audience can hear it.
There’s a constant sense of performance and expectation when characters interact. People say what you would expect them to in a tone that betrays their lack of certainty, Lisa especially. Everyone drives golf carts, and when Lisa comes to a four-way stop, none of the drivers can move forward. They keep nodding and signaling to the person on their right to go. Every person is terrified to make an etiquette misstep; they would instead freeze. When things go wrong, often for Lisa, no none shows an ounce of empathy or understanding. They become embarrassed or move away from her, afraid to be caught in her flawed orbit.
Greener Grass is a brilliant satire but falls into the pitfalls I think most satire does. Because the focus is tightly on themes and its exaggerated exploration, the characters come to feel like props. They are essentially living in a series of comedy skits that build to a third act story beat. The movie is a lot of fun, and there are some brilliantly inspired moments. My particular favorite is a children’s show called “Kids With Knives” that turns Julie’s son from a polite, well-mannered young man into a juvenile delinquent with a potty mouth. If you are up for a film that explores some dark comedic territory but doesn’t go too extreme (though I really wish it would have), Greener Grass has a lot to offer.