SUNDANCE 2019: Greener Grass
Directors Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe have a tight, twisted grasp of society because they scrutinize and indulge it so effortlessly in their debut feature film Greener Grass. It’s absolutely bonkers. There’s no way around that and you’ll find yourself laughing obnoxiously at every cringe encounter. It’s a zany, off-kilter fixation on suburban life in a kindness crisis. It’s as if ’50s infomercials ran rampant with hysteria covered in dreamy cinematography. Welcome to a reality where people wear braces on perfect teeth, couples dutifully coordinate wardrobes, and four-way stops are one polite fuss closer to insanity.
As the film opens, Jill Davies (DeBoer) and Lisa Wetbottom (Luebbe) are watching their kids play soccer from the benches. Jill’s been holding her newborn while they chatter and when Lisa finally notices and comments how beautiful she is, little baby Madison is offered up to her like a gift. Jill’s overwhelming sense of people-pleasing takes her a few steps too far and she will spend the rest of the film hoping to piece her life back together after constant disarray. No amount of perfectly decorated house parties or excellent pink attire will fulfill her. Lisa, on the other hand, is a bit passive aggressive and conniving as she vies to one-up and remain a model citizen and have the biggest family, soccer ball child Twilson included. Their husbands (played exceptionally hilarious by Beck Bennett and Neil Casey, are their own type of playful funny as they navigate the busy lives of their wives, carrying too much coin change and not enough jugs of filtered pool drinking water.
Pulling bits and pieces from their 2016 SXSW award-winning short of the same name, this stylistically mid-century piece of satire is both an ode and jab at common decency. In an existence that competes to feel like trophy families, DeBoer and Luebbe craft a suburbia in social peril that’s more ridiculous than those of modern day. Our actresses strike up caricatures of middle class America competing with themselves as their kids engage in different hobbies, their husbands become progressively more silly, and all to the backdrop murder of their local yoga teacher. Sometimes we don’t know who’s lurking, watching us, and it could very well be our anxieties disguised as red herrings.
It wouldn’t be farfetched to consider the angle of how women themselves are constantly pitted against each other in a reality not too different from ours where gloss and status are valued over decency and individuality. DeBoer and Luebbe maneuver this multifaceted commentary in their film and send the aching reminder of the dark places we will go to feel validated and ideal. Whether it’s the pressure to buy your newly divorced (she want’s you to know that) neighbor’s pink cutlery set, or adapting to the fact that a member of your family is now a dog (a much cooler, stronger, efficient version of themselves, but still, a dog), Greener Grass is peak shenanigans territory. The way this director/writer duo adapts their short cut into a feature length bonanza is telling of their comedy prowess and vision for dissection. Although its second half can feel a little bloated to reach the finish line, it never loses what makes it so sharp; its cunning depth of humanity.
From Samuel Nobles’ grim synth tracks to Lauren Oppelt’s costume designing genius, the film is jam-packed with the tools to flesh out this quirky, standardized way of living. DeBoer and Luebbe’s background in comedic writing and the improv scene at The Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre deserves major applause here. Although its humor is a particular brand of absurdity that you’d find only in late night programming, those that connect with it will find it hopelessly admirable. Greener Grass premiered as part of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival Midnight programming and if that can tell you anything, it’s that this feature debut from the pairing of DeBoer and Luebbe is a total outlandish success.
Directed by: Jocelyn DeBoer, Dawn Luebbe
Starring: Jocelyn DeBoer, Dawn Luebbe, Beck Bennett, Neil Casey, Mary Holland, D’Arcy Carden, Jim Cummings