Greener Grass: The Absurd, Surrealist Suburban Satire You've Been Waiting For
Writing/directing duo Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe are making big waves with their feature film debut, Greener Grass, which was a surprise hit at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Based off the duo’s short film of the same name, this refreshingly offbeat, delightfully absurd, and totally unpredictable satire unleashes a never-ending barrage on suburban living, and it has all the makings of an instant cult classic.
In a twisted candy-colored version of suburbia where adults wear braces on their already-straight teeth, everyone drives golf carts, and children magically turn into golden retrievers, soccer moms and best friends Jill (Jocelyn DeBoer) and Lisa (Dawn Luebbe) find themselves constantly competing against each other in their personal lives, as their kids settle their differences on the field.
As a backdrop, middle-of-nowhere suburban America is no stranger to cinema satire, yet the bizzaro day-glo world that Greener Grass manages to carve out its own singular space within the sub-genre. The experience could be described as The Stepford Wives on acid directed by the lovechild of David Lynch and John Waters, a late night Adult Swim live-action skit meets SNL burlesque, Tim and Eric's Air Bud sequel, or a version of the American dream as observed and recreated by aliens, but none of them does Greener Grass justice. It really isn’t quite like anything we’ve seen before, and its antics must be seen to be believed. It perfectly encapsulates the oddity of indeterminate suburbia with a surreal acuity (think Blue Velvet by way of Polyester), and it thoroughly sinks its braces into exploring the notion of if the grass is truly greener on the other side.
The film releases a scattershot spray of satiric material (some bits don’t land as successfully as others), but at its core, it’s about the petty, passive-aggressive competing that often occurs in the suburbs and how its residents seem to get an idea of what they want based off what those around them have (things like pools, babies, and divorces). Best of all, there’s a dark truth that is often lurking behind its satiric lashes, which intensifies the laughs, while also giving you a lot to mull over.
It filets the absurdity of the suburban facade, and its citizens' constant chasing-the-dragon strive for perfection, which always seems just one lifestyle change away, and it hilariously explores the extreme politeness that lurks within the ‘burbs, finding gut-busting laughs within the confines of politically correct sanitization. It also pokes fun of some of the fears suburban parents might have, like TV corrupting children, and how they tend to treat their kid like a pet (or their pet like a kid).
It jumps right into the oddness as Jill offers Lisa her new baby out of a sense of politeness, which Lisa immediately accepts. The hand off sets in motion Lisa’s systematic attempt to take over every aspect of Jill’s life — something which seems easy, given how interchangeable the characters seem to be, as an early scene involving a husband mix up makes abundantly clear. To make things even more gonzo, there’s a murderer (known as the bagger killer) on the loose, who also seems to have eyes on Jill and her seemingly perfect life.
The story is pretty thin, and at times it feels more like an array of sketches that have been pretty seamlessly glued together than a typical film, which adds to its delightful unpredictability. It’s more like a peculiar hangout film, than it is a straight narrative, since it’s really about basking in the preposterous madness of its world and the lovable idiocy of its characters. It may take some time to warm up to its world and adjust to its tone, but once you’re instep with its insanity, it just keeps getting better and better.
As amusing and hilarious as its gags may be though, a bulk of Greener Grass’s success rides on the wonderfully wacky world it creates. The basic foundation of the world is all on the page, but everything is taken to a new level by the production design from Leigh Poindexter and costume design by Lauren Oppelt. Both designers flesh out the world into a tangible, yet timeless 3-dimensional reality full of bright candy-colored pastels and tactile patterns. Oppelt’s costume design in particular really helps to define the film’s characters by assigning each couple/character a specific color or pattern. The cinematography from Lowell A. Meyer gives the film a sunlit gloss and suburban shine that completes the film’s aesthetic.
In addition to the film’s lovely leads played by DeBoer and Lubbe, the terrific cast, including D’Arcy Carden, Neil Casey, Mary Holland, and Beck Bennett, make Greener Grass into an even more attractive package. Each performer wholeheartedly commits to the material and blends comedic hyperbole with a stoicism that works effectively well. They also manage to somehow find comedy within the blank spaces and pauses within dialogue that make even the quietest moments a gas.
Overall, this hilariously bonkers assault on the ridiculousness of suburbia is full of WTF moments that can always be counted on for a laugh. It might not maintain high-intensity hilarity for the entirety of its runtime, but its laughs are frequent and aplenty. It goes off the rails toward the end, and while it doesn’t entirely stick its landing, it makes some observations about suburban life that will change the way you look at it forever. Like its characters, Greener Grass isn’t perfect, but it certainly shoots for the moon with its clearly focused vision, and it’s definitely the kind of world you’ll want to visit time and time again.
Recommendation: If you’re a fan of weird worlds and love absurdist satires with a surrealist tinge, absolutely give this film a watch! It releases theatrically and on-demand this Friday, October 18th.
Rating: 3.5 Golden Retrievers outta 5.
What do you think? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!