After giving away her baby to her covetous neighbor Lisa, Jill watches her older son turn into a golden retriever after he hiccuped into the swimming pool. In her world, everyone wears braces. Adults ride golf-carts, footballs become ersatz babies and wife swapping is accidental. But where resentment and extreme politeness are each others’ match, cracks start to form. Jill’s perfect life unravels.
Comic duo Jocelyn DeBoer (Jill) and Dawn Luebbe (Lisa), hailing from Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, crank up the levels of absurdity in their first feature. Bizarre and awkward, Greener Grass tells the story of Jill’s downward spiral in suburban hell. While the opening credits roll, we see a close up of a mouth struggling to keep smiling. With braced teeth and tiny lip muscles trembling with effort, the smile turns into a grimace.
Luebbe and DeBoer maintain a fizzy awkwardness throughout the whole film, working both the narrative and formal angle. They let the weirdest turn of events push your willingness to suspend disbelief to its full limits, and then give it another nudge. Formal elements pull their weight: to emphasize an awkward moment, shots often linger past the moment where a more conventional editor would have cut. But in the end, it’s often the enthusiasm and the exaggeration of the actresses and their expressive eyes that bring home the bit.
Samuel Nobles’ score is a mix of music for soft-core pornography from the eighties and upbeat jingles. His ethereal synthesizers are the kitschy ribbon wrapping the 80’s pastel package delivered by DoP Lowell A. Meyer. The picture-perfect suburban paradise they create is the backdrop for Luebbe and DeBoer’s satirical comedy horror. Like facial symmetry, Greener Grass is as weirdly perfect as it is perfectly weird.
At the sidelines of her kids’ soccer games, Jill makes a scene in front of her neighbors. Shouting that she “has to get out of here” prompts an “Out of bounce” from the coach on the field. As everything starts to unravel, she tries to free herself from shackles of conventionality by cutting her braces. While symbolizing her rejection of constraining perfection, the metallic rictus also reminds the robotic housewives of Ira Levin’s 1974 novel The Stepford Wives. Its campy science fiction delight is here infused with a zest of John Waters and a zap of improv comedy. The provincial housewives regurgitate pink foam after eating tea sandwiches – no crust – at their baby shower and Jill’s hair bleeds blood when cut by the hairdresser. It’s the equivalent of Bobbie (Bette Midler), without so much as a sigh, burning her hands on the stove in Frank Oz’ film adaptation. It also doesn’t help that Beck Bennet, who plays Jill’s husband, is basically a clone of Matthew Broderick’s character in the 2004 film.
There are moments where Greener Grass might feel like an amalgam of stand-up comedy shticks. But the imbricated storyline of a creepy peeping tom weaves it all together. The duo’s humor, at times tongue-in-cheek, at other times unsettling, is extended beyond the main narrative and allows for hilarious detours. Family members watch TV shows such as Kids with Knives or Bald Men with Bouquets and in class, Miss Human (D’Arcy Carden) teaches the kids about the glorious pioneering days by enumerating torture techniques. Every moment of Greener Grass is impregnated with a solid loyalty to the mission: ridiculing prescriptive social behavior.