REVIEW: Greener Grass [2019]

Score: 7/10 | ★ ★ ★


Rating: NR | Runtime: 95 minutes | Release Date: October 18th, 2019 (USA)
Studio: IFC Midnight
Director(s): Jocelyn DeBoer & Dawn Luebbe
Writer(s): Jocelyn DeBoer & Dawn Luebbe

“We’re supposed to tell people”

Two of the most recognizable inhabitants of any plastic suburban nightmare you’ll come across are the “people-pleasers” and the “coveters.” The former will do whatever is necessary to ensure everyone is happy because they want to be appreciated as the type of person that can help make such happiness occur. The latter craves that happiness as though it’s a drug, gravitating towards possessing each subsequent example they see since their wanting can’t cease when every newly acquired type of happiness wasn’t born from them. Both are therefore empty, soulless creatures that exist vicariously through external stimuli to achieve some unrealistic fantasy wherein appearance trumps comfort. They’re each a selfishly selfless opportunist ruled by social conformity, trapped within a fictitious competition that’s fueled by shame and devoid of victors.

Put these two types together and the comedy almost writes itself. Writers/directors/actors Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe unsurprisingly bonded over one such scenario years ago when cleaning up after an Upright Citizens Brigade session. According to the press notes for their debut feature Greener Grass, the two came upon a single cookie leftover from the event. Not wanting to seem covetous, they became caught in a people-pleaser loop until realizing neither could eat the treat anymore. Doing so now would be a sign of weakness—proof their kindness was merely a façade en route to acquiring that which their stomachs desired. And since nothing reveals the danger of psychological conditioning more than an absurd escalation of stakes, DeBoer and Luebbe asked, “What if the cookie was a baby?”

I’m not speaking in metaphor here. They literally open their film at a grade school kids’ soccer match wherein Lisa (Luebbe) sees Jill’s (DeBoer) baby and hyperbolically exclaims how much she “loves” her. I use “hyperbolic,” but perhaps she was actually seething instead. Lisa wants Jill’s life. She wants her home, husband (Beck Bennett‘s Nick), and everything that comes with it. Because Jill sees a bit of that jealousy and would rather die than know she’s the cause, it’s only natural to ask her apparent best friend if taking the infant would make her happier. The result is a mix of emotions: joy, regret, guilt, and generosity. There’s no loop this time, though. Jill is a “people-pleaser” and Lisa is a “coveter.” That cookie has already been digested.

What are the ramifications? Jill is now the mother of one child (Julian Hilliard‘s Julian) instead of two. Lisa is now the mother of two (Asher Miles Fallica‘s Bob alongside the baby). Is Jill happier that she gave her daughter away? No. Does Lisa have the better house and husband because she has what might be the better kid too? No. And as Jill grows more depressed, she wants to make others happier. As Lisa discovers she isn’t getting happier, she yearns for and grabs the spotlight with more vehemence than before. Their “friends” (Mary Holland‘s Kim Ann and Janicza Bravo‘s Marriott) bring their own hang-ups, the insular world they call home creates deeper rifts, and suddenly everything changes. Up is down and boy is dog.

I’ll say it now: Greener Grass is a lot. The cookie to baby twist of reality is legitimately profound and hilarious, but DeBoer and Luebbe pack their film to the brim with other comparable examples until the whole becomes rather daunting to consume. You might therefore checkout early simply because you weren’t ready to process their conceit as more than the joke its surface anticipates. I won’t blame you for doing so since I too was pushed to the edge of my own threshold a few times before inching my way back, but it would be a shame if you gave up. The underlying message, intensifying darkness, and absolutely horrific conclusion positing that the game can facilitate a winner after all is undeniably remarkable. So please have patience.

Some of the best humor comes from the background whether it’s Marriott’s scathing retorts whenever anyone tries to innocuously comment on her wardrobe or the numerous television programs with eccentric content that ultimately provide lasting effects on the proceedings. Some is silly (Nick is so proud of his new de-chlorinated pool water that he drinks it any chance he gets) and some tragically authentic (the way in which parents treat kids like pets who don’t have wants of their own). And some is overtly in-your-face in ways that jump on the back of the film’s main narrative propulsion (see Dot-Marie Jones as an ever-present voyeur infiltrating Jill’s life with a much heavier hand than Lisa’s envious copy-catting entails). One person’s quiet ambitions are another’s aggressive demands.

We’re watching them unravel as a result of their collective penchant for knee-jerk responses. Are you sad? Get a divorce. Are you not getting enough attention? Stick a soccer ball up your dress and call it a baby whenever you deem it ready to pop out. Smile through your disappointment and embrace your confusion because thinking too hard only make matters worse. Simple lives and simple thoughts allow you to forget your lack of autonomy as capitalism renders our happiness into the very product it sells until we the consumer realize we don’t even know what happiness is to try finding it on our own. Better to live through your kids, family, friends, and/or tortured past (D’Arcy Carden) than build a unique identity all your own.

Why? Because self-awareness exposes the hellish world in which we reside. Peering behind the curtain means understanding how no amount of grinning lips can hide the gritting teeth beneath that steel themselves from the dog-eat-dog existence we prey is the illusion rather than those dull lives and conversations we use as its mask. To watch Luebbe’s face simmer with resentment despite her peppy dialogue while DeBoer loses her handle on the idyllic home she unwittingly self-sabotages by way of peer pressure is to look upon a mirror at our own tired and spent soul that’s one paper cut away from snapping beyond repair. Happiness is but a trick of evil. We take. We squander. And we forget our pain just long enough to suffer through it all again.


photography:
[1] Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe’s Greener Grass. Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Midnight Release.
[2] [From left to right] Abigail Kurtz as “Paige,” Neil Casey as “Dennis,” Asher Milles Fallica and Dawn Luebbe as “Lisa” in Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe’s Greener Grass. Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Midnight Release.
[3] (From left to right) Dawn Luebbe as “Lisa,” Neil Casey as “Dennis,” Jocelyn DeBoer as “Jill,” Beck Bennett as “Nick,” John Schmedes as “The Reverend” and Mary Holland as “Kim Ann” in Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe’s Greener Grass. Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Midnight Release.

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