tue 10/12/2019

Greener Grass review - American suburbia goes haywire in surreal dark comedy | reviews, news & interviews

Greener Grass review - American suburbia goes haywire in surreal dark comedy

Greener Grass review - American suburbia goes haywire in surreal dark comedy

Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe's first feature has an SNL vibe

Please, have my baby: soccer moms Jill (Jocelyn DeBoer) and Lisa (Dawn Luebbe)

The pink, turquoise and orange world of Greener Grass is a riot of derangement. Here is the suburban dream gone haywire, where, out of politeness, a woman gives her baby to her friend because she admires it. Every adult wears braces, hair bleeds when you get it cut and a boy turns into a golden retriever (his father is delighted – at last he’s willing to run for the ball).

There are echoes of The Truman Show, Stepford Wives and Desperate Housewives, even Dean Spanley, but Greener Grass is its own brand of surreal Americana, with a slice of Saturday Night Live thrown in. This is Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe’s first feature film (it started out as an award-winning short) and they also co-star, brilliantly, with DeBoer (also seen in Thunder Road) as the painfully anxious-to-please Jill and Luebbe as her viciously entitled, jealous friend Lisa.

But there are no real relationships in this strange, pastel dystopia where everyone drives golf buggies (it was actually shot in Peachtree City, Georgia, known as the golf-cart capital of the world) and no one wears black. Here, people are too polite to advance at a four-way intersection, leading to an endless impasse. (I’ve witnessed something like this happening in actual suburbia.)

After Jill, who wears frilly pink gingham, enormous pendant earrings and an anguished expression, gives her baby Madison away, her life starts to implode. Her husband Nick (Beck Bennett, seen as Putin on SNL) would have preferred that she ask him first before giving their daughter to Lisa, but he's too excited about the excellent quality of their pool water and its new oxygenated filtration system to care. He drinks it straight from the pool, freezes it into ice-lollies and insists on taking his own vast container to a restaurant, a place where waiters spill food and people politely eat it off the floor.

Their son Julian is a bit of a wimp with a tendency to yawn mightily on the soccer field and to cry when a ball hits him. He’s not toilet-trained either, so Jill has to bring baskets of underwear to school for him, leaving them with scary teacher Miss Human (the wonderful D’Arcy Carden, familiar as Janet in The Good Place).

Miss Human likes leading the kids in a rousing singalong about her mother, who shot her brother, sister and father, and gets them to fill in worksheets about how they imagine their family members will die. Nothing fazes her, not even the new version of Julian. “He’s a dog now,” explains Jill. “Well, he’s tardy,” retorts Miss Human. Julian sits nicely at his desk, wearing his school uniform with his tongue lolling out.

greenerAs well as Jill’s baby, Lisa and her husband Dennis (Neil Casey, another SNL alumnus, also in Big Mouth, Silicon Valley and Ghostbusters 3, pictured above left) have a son, Bob (Asher Miles Fallica, seen in Tully and Ozark), who’s better behaved than Julian until Dennis falls asleep and lets him watch a TV show called “Kids with Knives” (perhaps not the best joke). This has an instant effect on Bob who starts cursing and yelling, “I wish I was aborted,” in an Exorcist-type voice. But his parents are fatalistic and passive. “He doesn’t smile any more, he’s bad now,” they tell the photographer who’s taking a family photo in honour of another new baby. Lisa has given birth to a soccer ball. They call it Twilson.

Greener Grass is all about competitiveness, taken to surreal heights. If your kid doesn’t test into Rocket Math, you’re done for. The taco dip you've brought is only five layers, not seven? Leave it on the floor. A TV ad for baby food “made without the violent presence of knives or blades” shows a mother chewing up sweet potato and spitting it into a jar, “because machinery is not a mother”. And as for divorce, you need everyone to know about it, because no one wants to be invisible.

There’s a comment on social media lurking within: everything is on the surface, commoditised, interchangeable – especially houses and spouses - and meaningless. Jill is the only one showing any semblance of emotional pain (apart from a yoga-teacher killer called Little Helen played by Dot Marie Jones), and when her life collapses, she does try to escape – unsuccessfully, but never mind. Greener Grass is full of dark, delicious weirdness. Don’t look too hard for deeper meaning.

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