Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Movie Review: Greener Grass

Greener Grass * ½ / *****
Written by: Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe.
Starring: Jocelyn DeBoer (Jill), Dawn Luebbe (Lisa), Beck Bennett (Nick), Neil Casey (Dennis), Mary Holland (Kim Ann), D'Arcy Carden (Miss Human), Julian Hilliard (Julian Hilliard 'Icee' the Dog), Janicza Bravo (Marriott), Dot-Marie Jones (Little Helen), Asher Miles Fallica (Bob), Lauren Adams (Erika / Cheryl Hoad), John Milhiser (Photographer), Santina Muha (Shayna), Mike Scollins (Buck), Jim Cummings (Rob), Beth Appel (Crystal), Ammie Masterson (Mae), Abigail Kurtz (Madison Paige Wetbottom), Allison Kurtz (Madison Paige Wetbottom), Sutton Johnston (Dan), Boden Johnston (Rostaffano), Hollyn Johnston (Citronella), Jaxon Rose Moore (Raja).
I admire filmmakers who have a strange vision, and stick with that vision from beginning to end – and if nothing else, writer-directors-stars Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe do just that in Greener Grass. It’s just with this film, their subversive takes on suburbia I felt was a little too one the nose, a little too tired and clichéd to truly be subversive. Filmmakers have been picking on suburbia at least as far back as Hitchcock in Shadow of a Doubt (1943) – all the way through various Douglas Sirk films to The Stepford Wives and David Lynch in Blue Velvet and Sam Mendes in American Beauty and the entire career of Todd Solondz to name just a few of the filmmakers who have found the cookie cutter structure and the Keeping Up with the Joneses mentality of suburbia to be stifling and shallow. But those films all had a grounded level of reality somewhere at its core – even Blue Velvet – that made it feel like those criticisms were coming from a genuine place. In Greener Grass, everything is a joke, everything is a put upon act, or over-the-top, or just plain silly. I learned that this is a feature remake of a short film the two women wrote and starred in together (but didn’t direct) – and I could see how this style would work in a 15-minute film. But exploded to 95 minutes, and it’s a trail to sit through this film – which feels like punching down more than anything.
In the film, DeBoer plays Jill and Luebbe plays Lisa – a pair of soccer moms, with boys the same age, in the same class, and on the same soccer team. In the films first scene, Jill and Lisa are at their son’s game – Jill holding her new baby daughter, Madison, who Lisa says is adorable. No sooner has that happened, that Jill is insisting that Lisa take baby Madison – of course she should – and Lisa willingly excepts. The rest of the movie, Jill will try and get baby Madison back, but Lisa will grow increasingly insulted that Jill would even ask such a thing. This is the level of satire going on here.
From there, we meet their husbands (Jill’s played by Beck Bennett from SNL, who excels at this sort of thing, and does do it quite well here) and their families, and their circle of friends. The production design seems to suggest that they showed their designer Blue Velvet and told them to multiple that by a thousand. It’s all garish colors, impossibly green grass, pastels on everybody, etc. There are more twists and turns in the plot – like when Jill’s son just turns into a Golden Retriever one day for example.
The underlying premise of Greener Grass seems to be that suburban housewife’s/soccer moms are too nice – too willing to just go along with whatever anyone else thinks and says so as to not cause a commotion or a fuss. Jill apologizes constantly – from everything, even things she has no control over, and does whatever anyone else suggests. This is how she loses her baby, or why she’ll ask for a divorce from her husband or anything else. It would be rude to stand up for herself.
That’s a rather thin premise to rest an entire movie on, and as such, Greener Grass feels remarkably thin. It basically establishes everything it has to say in that first scene – where Jill gives her baby away – and then repeats it from the next 95 minutes. There are some laughs here – some of the one-liners are an absurdist delight, and the great Darcy Carden shows up as Miss Human – the boys teacher, who mentions that her father killed her mother, and her sister and her brother at every opportunity. But none of it really adds up to anything. I give DeBoer and Luebbe credit – they have a style and a theme, and they stick to it, and bring it farther than it should go, but is really the only logical place for it to go. I just wish it was at the service of something interesting to say – and they didn’t just get the same nail with the same hammer in every scene.

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