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Review: 'Greener Grass' Feels Like 'PEN15's Older, Weirder Sister, And We're Into It

By Kristy Puchko | Film | October 16, 2019 |

By Kristy Puchko | Film | October 16, 2019 |


If you think suburbia is a suffocating hellscape of conformity and consumerism, you’ll revel in every twisted and aggressively twee moment of Greener Grass. The scathing social satire co-written, co-directed, and co-starring Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe sinks its braces-fastened teeth into suburban ennui, nuclear families, and the urge to keep up with the Jones, with relish so wild you’ll gawk then howl with laughter.

Greener Grass begins with two soccer moms watching their second-graders play in a low-stakes match in which they expertly feign interest. The women are friends, but their status is quickly established with how gawky Lisa Wetbottom (Luebbe) fawns over queen bee Jill Davies’ (DeBoer) super-cute new accessory, her baby Madison. “Oh my gosh,” Lisa clucks, “I did not even notice you have a new baby!” Modestly, Jill shrugs, “We wanted to try something new.” Then in a beyond gracious move—that will get tongues wagging—Jill gives her newborn to her friend, as if it were a cute bracelet she’d picked up as an impulse purchase. The baby is handed off to her new mom, and so begins a shift in status that’ll drive Jill to the brink of madness and Lisa to birthing a soccer ball.

Things will quickly spin from quirky to surreal. This is a suburbia where peer pressure has pushed a slew of grown-ups to treat adult braces as status symbols. Here placidly pleasant husbands crave poolwater popsicles, couples dress in mercilessly matching outfits, and a tantrum-throwing child can be inexplicably transformed into a golden retriever. Which is QUITE embarrassing when it happens in the middle of a big party!

From the first frames, Greener Grass warns us of its outrageousness with a color palette so violently vivid and willfully overexposed that it’s a purposeful eyesore. Pretty-in-pink Jill and bold-in-blue Lisa are instantly painted as living cartoons, and everything around them is suitably extreme. Their husbands are so blandly interchangeable that they forget who’s whose until after an aggressive makeout session full of performative passion and slobber. TV commercials promote Baby Bird, baby food processed not by ruthless knives but the teeth and saliva of real mothers just like you! And when Jill’s pants-wetting son has soiled his classroom’s beanbag chair, his teacher Miss Human (The Good Place’s Darcy Carden) responds curtly, “It’s really not replaceable. My mother made it. Before she killed my father. And my brother. And my sister.”

DeBoer and Luebbe’s brand of humor is chipper with a mercilessly mocking edge that reminded me of Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle’s comedy series PEN15. But Greener Grass pushes past the theatricality of teen angst to the absurdities of adult anxiety. Jealousy, insecurity, marital strain, and parental pride are skewered with deadpan delivery and bonkers visual gags. And DeBoer and Luebbe’s charismatic cast is totally game. Ghostbusters’ Neil Casey and Saturday Night Live’s Beck Bennett play perfectly doofy hubbies. Camping’s Janicza Bravo is a deliciously passive-aggressive neighbor, while Carden is terrifically straight-faced as she sings a horrific folk song to a room full of children. Even child actor Julian Hilliard, whose Jacob Tremblay-like little face you might recognize from The Haunting of Hill House, nails the uncomfortable comedy of this film, staring blankly as he lies useless on a soccer field or shrieking savagely at his desperate mother, “YOU’RE A SCHOOL!” It doesn’t make sense in context either. And that’s frankly why it works.

Greener Grass is a lavishly bizarre comedy that dives deep into the surreal and uncomfortable to satirize the suburban ideal of house, husband, family, stuff. Jill begins the film with all of this, yet still feels something is missing. But as her search for happiness drives her—and her bubble-gum pink golf cart—to more ludicrous scenarios, we’re invited to consider how the game—brightly colored and full of prizes as it may be—is ultimately rigged to make losers of us all.

Greener Grass opens October 18.

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Kristy Puchko is the managing editor of Pajiba. You can follow her on Twitter.

Header Image Source: IFC Midnight