Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
Not Rated, 95 minutes
With its kitschy saturated pop palette and wired, wacky surrealist bent, Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe’s GREENER GRASS is like Lilly Pulitzer on MDMA. The off-kilter, highly-stylized suburban comedy revolving around two soccer moms attempting to one up each other is for audiences whose funny tuning fork resonates at a high frequency. It’s for those who adore the highly functioning extremes of absurdist humor and the satirical commentary of late-night sketch comedy. The picture’s silliness is delivered with a straight face and it works.
Jill (Jocelyn DeBoer) and Lisa (Dawn Luebbe) are the best of frenemies, deadlocked in a competition with each other over their husbands, homes, and soccer-playing second grade sons. They populate a suburbia where residents’ immaculate candy-coated existence is perfectly landscaped with green grass, purified pool water and flawless flora and fauna. Families are swathed in color-coded wardrobes to signify their role in the rainbow of colorful townsfolk. Yet with all this prescribed world order, Jill makes a mistake with massive ramifications: she exercises her free will.
During a soccer match, Lisa makes a seemingly innocuous compliment about the adorableness of Jill’s baby Madison (Abigail & Allison Kurtz), which leads to Jill giving Lisa her baby. Jill regrets her decision almost immediately, but because she’s polite to a fault, she doesn’t ask for Lisa to return Madison, now renamed Paige (one of the film’s long-running gags that’s carried through the end credits). Jill’s pristine home life starts crumbling too. Son Julian (Julian Hilliard) begins acting out, yelling, wetting himself and, ultimately, morphing into a golden retriever. Her husband Nick (Beck Bennett) grows distant, obsessed with drinking pool water and nurturing their dog-son’s newfound athleticism. Plus, her other gal pals – recent divorcee Kim Ann (Mary Holland) and single mom Mariott (Janicza Bravo) – turn on her since she didn’t offer them her baby. Jill’s thrown into an existential crisis that challenges her beliefs and exposes hard truths about the world around her.
DeBoer and Luebbe offer rapid-fire hilarious scenarios that surprisingly all manage to connect effortlessly. There’s certainly an outlandishness to everything these women do, from Jill’s vocal fry as she constantly leads conversations with apologies, to Lisa’s laser-like focus on “rocket math,” to them drinking color-coordinated Boba Teas.
Long-running gags are handled with efficiency, jokes like those revolving around Lisa’s soccer ball baby “Twilson,” Nick’s rationalization that Julian “won’t be an accountant,” Mariott’s sporty outfit denials, and Miss Human’s (D’Arcy Carden) disturbing family history. Bits are top notch – like Lisa’s husband Dennis (Neil Casey) emptying his change-filled pants pockets, Miss Human’s upbeat but dark children’s song about pioneers, and a family photo session made extremely awkward. “Kids with Knives,” the dangerous TV program Lisa’s son Bob (Asher Miles Fallica) accidently gets hooked on is not only skewering commentary (that kids are heavily influenced by television), but also an uproarious bit that acts as the catalyst for Bob’s wildly rebellious phase, speaking in a demonic voice, swearing and attempting smoking.
But the magic trick is that the filmmakers also managed to layer in socially conscious, feminist-forward sentiments into their satire. In this world, the matriarchs are the primary decision makers, holding their households together, or instigating divorce. Jill is an extreme example of femininity as perpetually pink, always apologizing for her actions and overly self-conscious of how others view her. Only after she expresses her agency, stepping outside the norm, does the veil lift and her WASPy denial dissipates. Lisa is also suffering, keeping up with the Joneses. Little Helen (Dot-Marie Jones), a character driven mad by usurping other women’s lives, metaphorically represents a growing discontent of societal norms, a malevolent presence lurking beneath the surface.
GREENER GRASS’ immersive world-building draws us in further with its astute aesthetic crafted by below the line talents. Lowell A. Meyer’s overly pronounced (but never obtrusive) cinematography heightens atmospheric tension. Samuel Nobles’ sudsy telenovela-style score complements the joyful ludicrousness. Leigh Poindexter’s perfectly curated production design and Lauren Oppelt’s Palm Beach preppy-influenced costume design inform these characters’ perspectives.
DeBoer and Luebbe’s vision of a quirky utopian society might not work for everyone. Yet what they cut into is sharp observational comedy filtered through a soft-focus lens.
GREENER GRASS opens in New York and Los Angeles on October 18, as well as On Demand.