“Greener Grass”: Film Review | Sundance 2019

Courtesy of Sundance Institute

In this absurdist black comedy satire of middle-class suburban envy, co-directors/writers Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe imagine a bizarre world where jealous neighbors push politeness to the extreme.

Frank Kafka meets The Good Place meets Edward Scissorhands somewhere on the edge of the alternative universe that The Lobster was set is the best way to describe the debut black comedy feature from the writing-directing team of Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe (both Upright Citizens Brigade alumni). The question they pose to the audience is simple: what would it take to make you happy in life? And they answer it in a simple way: your best friend offers you their newborn child and you take it!

Greener Grass is an absurd yet wonderfully upbeat absurdist take on the American dream. The setting is simple: an imagined upper-middle-class community where domestic bliss always seems to be just one lifestyle tweak away. Adapting their 2015 short film of the same name, DeBoer and Luebbe co-star as pastelclad frenemies, while upcoming TV players such as D’Arcy Carden (The Good Place‘s Janet), Mary Holland (Veep) and Beck Bennett (Saturday Night Live) round out the comedic cast.

In the re-imagined upper-middle-class community, probably located somewhere in the American Southeast, everyone drives around in golf carts and all the adults – for some reason – have braces. The witty costume design by the wonderful Lauren Oppelt equips each character in varying shades of one or two colors from a palette of baby-shower colors. Husbands don Bermuda shorts. Women strut in pumps and fit-and-flare frocks that would make Betty Draper frolic with glee. The time frame is very retro vibe thanks to Leigh Poindexter’s unsettling yet fabulous production designs although it doesn’t appear to be the actual 1950s or 1960s.

One day at their kids’ soccer match, Lisa Wetbottom (Luebe) notices that her friend Jill Davies (DeBoer) has a new baby girl, Madison. Flattered by Lisa’s compliments on her child’s cuteness and keen to be polite and neighborly, Jill gives Madison to Lisa to keep… without ever consulting her husband Nick (Bennett). Madison comes to live with her new mom, who renames the baby Paige, and is loved by her new father Dennis (Neil Casey) and brother Bob (Asher Miles Fallica) whose intelligence and academic success falls extremely behind the Wetbottom’s son Julian (Julian Hilliard) which fills Lisa with great envy.

After a while, the meaning of the title becomes evident as every character longs to keep up or exceed the Wetbottoms’ in a merry circular firing squad of jealousy and repressed desires. To the directing duo’s credit, they manage to flesh out this interestingly thin premise with an assortment and abundance of wry subplots, some of which work better than others and some of which make more sense than others, like random suggestion from an audience at an improv performance (connecting back to their roots). The cast commits enthusiastically to all of the material, walking that fine line between comix exaggeration and almost earnest dramatic sincerity. What DeBoer and Luebbe have credited exceeds beyond an improv trope of a film… it’s a new cult classic.

JAKKAWI: B+

“Greener Grass” premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival in the Midnight Section. At press time, the film is to be distributed by IFC Films in Summer 2019.

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The promotional image used at Sundance; Photo Courtesy of IMDb

Director(s): Jocelyn DeBoer, Dawn Luebbe.
Screenwriter(s): Jocelyn DeBoer, Dawn Luebbe.
Music by: Samuel Nobles.
Cinematography: Lowell A. Meyer.
Production: Gulp Splash Productions, Vanishing Angle.
Distributor: IFC Films.
With: Jocelyn DeBoer, Dawn Luebbe, Neil Casey, Beck Bennett, D’Arcy Carden, Mary Holland, Julian Hilliard, Asher Miles Fallica, Hollyn Johnston.

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