In the debut feature from comic writer-director-stars Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe, we’re introduced to a candy-colored suburban fantasia not unlike the ‘50s-inspired milieus of Tim Burton’s early work. Things are even more skewed here, however, as all of the adults wear braces on their perfectly straight teeth and drive around in golf carts while their children sometimes take on non-human forms – when they’re not being swapped between families, that is. Oh yeah, there’s also a murderer on the loose even though nobody seems particularly fazed by it.
A decade ago, a film like Greener Grass would have felt hilariously fresh and skewed. But in an era where shows like Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! and Portlandia (and really, half the stuff that plays on Adult Swim) have taken absurdism to the mainstream and the films of Quentin Dupieux make regular stops at all the biggest film festivals, surrealist entertainment has become the new norm. Hell, even David Lynch managed to make the Twin Peaks revival, some of his absolute craziest work, for a major television network. I never thought a film where a woman has a soccer ball for a son would feel almost commonplace, but here we are.
Following from its creators’ training with the Upright Citizens Brigade, Greener Grass has less of a plot than a series of comedy sketches. DeBoer and Luebbe play the leads, two buttoned-down suburban women who find themselves in increasingly bizarre and subtly competitive situations with each other and the rest of their otherworldly community. Non-sequiturs are bandied around in virtually every scene, characters cry or scream or zone out for no reason, and sentimental old-school sitcom music intermingles with John Carpenter-like horror-synth cues.
I’ve always preferred my comedy to lean towards the demented so in theory, this all sounds great. But once you settle into the rhythms of this environment, it does start to feel a little one-note. For every bit that provokes serious giggling fits, there’s a couple more that just hang there, expecting us to laugh because it’s, you know, weird.
One thing that can’t be denied is DeBoer and Luebbe’s performances, fully committing to every embarrassing tic or awkward exchange. As perpetually confused mom Jill, DeBoer is especially impressive, affecting a deer-in-the-headlights look as her entire world crumbles around her, eventually having a hilariously frightening psychotic break of her own.
And as filmmakers, there’s definitely an accomplished vision on display here, exposing the hypocrisies of suburban life by turning into a loony hall of mirrors. For a while, they cheekily dig into issues of inadequacy, outdated gender roles and petty social constructs that are the very fabric of these kinds of community. And yet it still doesn’t feel like it goes far enough, opting instead for a safer, easier and more arbitrary route until it just sort of fizzles out in the final scene. It’s a shame, as certain moments show off a nervier film laying just below the surface.
Greener Grass may make you laugh in the moment but don’t expect it to leave a lasting impression once you step back out into the real world.