SXSW 2019 Review: GREENER GRASS Is Comedy Gold

Writer/Director duo Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe deliver absurdist satire from the cookie-cutter suburbs.

“The grass is always greener on the other side”. This common saying can be applied through several stages of one’s life. However, it’s inflamed within the seemingly picture-perfect world of the suburbs. Painted smiles, fashionable outfits, public displays of affection between seemingly happy couples, and a pristine home complete with the white picket fence can all mask feelings of an insatiable thirst for perfection and fulfillment. Writers, directors, and stars of the film Greener Grass, Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe expand their fifteen-minute short film by the same name into a maniacally manicured satire of the upper-middle class suburban lifestyle with style and sass.

The film opens with a soccer match as two mothers observe their children from the sidelines. Lisa Wetbottom (Luebbe) surprisingly addresses her friend Jill Davies (DeBoer) about her new baby, which she apparently didn’t notice prior. “Do you want her? She’s great!” Jill responds as she gladly hands her newborn over to Lisa - an act so carefree, it’s on par with offering your friend to try a bite of your meal at lunch. It’s at this moment, you realize this world is a wild west of weirdness worn on the ironed sleeves of the suburban community. As the two friends gossip about the news of a recent murder, Jill notices her son Julian (Julian Hilliard, The Haunting of Hill House) is not playing the game properly and subsequently embarrassing her in front of the other soccer moms. This focus puts the characters’ mentality into perspective for the audience and further establishes the tone of self-reflective absurdity that will flourish throughout the film. After all, isn’t your child not fitting in almost as horrific as a murderer on the loose in an otherwise safe community? Julian’s lack of athleticism and even his failure to properly insult his mother like any normally irate child (“you’re just a giant school filled with so many clocks!”) all slowly drive Jill to the edge as her marriage deteriorates and her frenemy, Lisa, slowly seeps in to capitalize on her downfall.

Greener Grass doesn’t entirely have a straight-forward plot other than the navigation of Jill’s familial life as her subsequent purpose and sanity slowly crumble away. Even the subplot of a murderer lurking around town doesn’t provide a strong sense of tension or mystery despite the accompanying horror genre elements of synth score interludes and creepy off-camera whispers. However, what the film lacks in plot, it makes up with in themes, style, and satire. The social commentary DeBoer and Luebbe cook up covers so many facets of being a female within a society that expects a certain image, success, and materialism. The desire to have a gifted child is at the forefront of the film. The ladies brag about their children taking “rocket math” in an after school class offered to a select few. Lisa’s son Bob (Asher Miles Fallica, Tully) turns into a pre-teen terror complete with glowing red eyes while yelling vulgarities at his parents immediately after watching a show on TV called “Kids With Knives”. There’s also the notion of perfect marriages and the aroused envy while witnessing how other husbands and wives interact. The public displays of affection among the gingham and floral dressed couples aptly capture a relatable cringe-worthy uncomfortableness in social settings. Except this time, all of the adults have braces and their make-out sessions are shot with invasive close-ups to really pack in the punch of that familiar “get a room, you two” situation. The style of dark comedy utilized to propel stereotypes such as housewives doing their kids’ homework for them, endlessly apologizing for no real reason, competitiveness among friends, and the misunderstood societal construct of needing to find fulfillment in motherhood is amusingly blatant. The film’s comedy maintains effective delivery courtesy of a quick-witted script as well as skillful acting by the entire cast. One of the most anticipated performances comes from Julian’s teacher, Miss Human (The Good Place’s D’Arcy Carden) as she teaches the children about pioneer life. If you grew up in the days of The Oregon Trail, then you will love her delightfully sinister in-class assignments.

One of the strongest aspects of the film is the visual aesthetic which compliments its zany tone. Cinematographer Lowell A. Meyer paints a sunny cinematic experience through his playful lighting and subsequently draws out the synthetic incongruity of this world. Costume designer Lauren Oppelt dresses the cast in pastel attire with costumes reminiscent of The Stepford Wives and color palettes that will make you think they live next door to the housewives in Edward Scissorhands. One of the most interesting aspects is the use of color blocking for Lisa and Jill. In the opening scene, Lisa is wearing her signature bubblegum pink attire while Lisa dons a mixed shade of blue. Over time, Lisa strategically deconstructs Jill’s life as her clothes simultaneously transition from blue to purple and eventually to Jill’s signature pink towards the end of the film. A similar approach was used by Breaking Bad costume designer Kathleen Detoro to convey character arcs and subtly drive the narrative forward. Oppelt also designed the colorful cowboy suits sprinkled with shiny rhinestones worn by DeBoer and Luebbe at the premiere.

Simply put, Greener Grass is destined to be a cult classic. It’s fun and fucked up in the best way possible. Drawing from their past sketch work with the Upright Citizens Brigade, DeBoer and Luebbe successfully construct a world that utilizes eccentric comedy to convey societal expectations and norms where nothing is off-limits. The jokes flow through the film with a natural ease which speaks to the immense talent from all those involved. Like the insatiable thirst for status and perfection, Greener Grass will leave you wanting more from these hilarious and hellbent ladies.