Greener Grass Sends Up Suburbia

Anyone have a mint? Photo courtesy Vanishing Apple

Early on in the film Greener Grass, there’s a scene that sums up its absurdist humor: two moms, Jill (Jocelyn DeBoer) and Lisa (Dawn Luebbe), are having a light conversation in the bleachers while watching their children’s soccer game. Clad in Stepford Wives-esque apparel, with Jill in all pink and Lisa in all blue, Lisa compliments Jill on the new baby in her arms; she does this with the same surprised tone as she would if she suddenly noticed a new set of earrings, despite Jill having held the baby for the entirety of the game. Jill expresses her gratitude, and then, after a pause, offers Lisa the infant. A couple of polite refusals of the “oh, no, I couldn’t!” variety ensue before Lisa relents and Jill hands over the baby. 

From there, you become aware this film operates on some bizarre, wacky plane of comedy akin to the films of John Waters and the work of Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim. DeBoer and Luebbe, who co-wrote and co-directed Greener Grass, clearly aim to send up suburban living by looking at it through a fun-house mirror. In their nameless, upper-class town, adults wear braces, everyone embraces pastel-colored wardrobes, women give birth to soccer balls, children turn into animals and television shows such as Bald Men and Bouquets make for wholesome programming. This is the world they have crafted, and there isn’t a minute that rolls by where something ridiculous isn’t said or done. Instead of the shtick feeling tired and gimmicky, Luebbe and DeBoer’s script consistently surprises with its unrelenting weirdness.  

Greener Grass revolves around Jill and Lisa and their daily struggles to maintain the façade of perfection. In her limitless pink outfits, Jill works hard to care for her marriage with her husband, Nick (Beck Bennett), but she works even harder at making her 7-year-old kid, Julian, resemble the perfect son, even as he displays through his awful piano recital and, to a larger extent, by turning into a golden retriever at a birthday party that he’s not. The baby that she handed off—originally named Madison but renamed Page by Lisa—makes a through-line in the film.

Lisa similarly struggles with keeping her son, Bob, focused on school and activities, but she has a bigger struggle maintaining her romantic connection to her husband, Dennis (Neil Casey). 

The two women fraternize with each other, and their wavering camaraderie shows their underlying rivalry to be the queen bee in their social circle. Meanwhile, an unknown lurker has been stealing the wardrobes of women in the town, causing paranoia among the residents.

DeBoer and Luebbe are both Upright Citizens Brigade regulars, so, natch, they play off each other well like an extreme tennis match. Their characters display the perfect pitch of perkiness mixed in with confusion and anxiety. Separately, Jill is a ball of good intentions while Lisa is the more self-conscious one. Their sunny dispositions are leveled by the pastel color scheme, bright-blue skies and synth-laden soundtrack that gives an aura of suburban paradise.

While all these elements are aesthetically calming, the main draw of Greener Grass is the absurd, outrageous things that pop up every few minutes: Young Bob becomes entranced, then possessed by a television show called Kids With Knives (about children exposed to random cutlery for no reason). In a temper tantrum triggered by being told he has to go to school, Julian claps back at his mother, “YOU’RE a school! ‘Look at me! I’m a school! I have all these classrooms inside me!’” (it’s his delivery of that line that cracks me up the most). And Nick becomes obsessed with a new water-filtration system that takes the chlorine out of pool water, and he drinks it nonstop. 

The film obviously pokes fun at the inanities of the members of the upper-middle class, as well as the ridiculous lengths to which they’ll go to maintain an image. Or it could be that one person’s idea of perfection is a prison to another. Either way, Greener Grass is perhaps one of the most offbeat films to deliver that message, through such moments as two braces-filled mouths swapping spit for two minutes before someone says, “Whoops! Wrong husband!” A cathartically gross, unusual comedy for our times, indeed.

Greener Grass was written and directed by and stars Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe.

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