Do you remember internet comedy in the noughties? It was all oh-so-random compilations of non-sequitur humour with a stoner bent and, in fact, it seems to be the brand of comedy that powers much of the output of Adult Swim today. It was the actually rather good Adult Swim short Unedited Footage of a Bear that came to mind as I watched the deeply unusual satirical comedy Greener Grass, which has a pair of comedy veterans as its writer-director-stars in Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe. It’s an intermittently brilliant and always unique take on the darkness of suburban conformity.
DeBoer and Luebbe portray Jill and Lisa, who are nominally best friends but seem to spend most of their time trying to one-up the other’s idyllic suburban perfection. The title is almost ironic because everyone’s grass is exactly as green as their neighbour’s. There’s not a blade of difference between homes in this bizarre community, which is permanently bathed in an ethereal brightness – though characters keep saying it’s getting darker – and in which everyone wears braces despite their already perfect teeth, getting around in colourful golf buggies.
Indeed, the only point of difference here is kids. Football games and school music recitals become battlegrounds for families’ children, with everyone keen for their little angel to do best. Kids are simply a commodity, though, and the first scene sees Jill hand over her new baby to Lisa, who has taken a shine to her. Later, one of the kids undergoes a baffling transformation and one of the women pretends a stolen football is a new child she has birthed, named Twilson. Both of these developments go without explanation. Oh-so-random, right?
In the opening moments, Greener Grass is frequently absurdly funny. The two women share their shock at the recent murder of local yoga instructor “Cheryl Something” before the baby handover takes place and the opening credits roll over a mouth twitching as it is held in a forced grin. Unfortunately, the darkness of that image is never matched by the rest of the film, even as its suburban idyll unravels in the third act. There’s none of the incisive commentary of Get Out on show here. Only a scene in which a child becomes radicalised by watching a few minutes of forbidden TV show Kids With Knives comes close to the sort of fun this premise could create.
Often, the film is like watching a middling improv comedy show. DeBoer and Luebbe evidently have a tonne of ideas and they throw all of them into the mix, seemingly without much regard as to whether they ever cohere into a meaningful narrative or thesis. Visually, though, it’s a feast – a perfectly controlled world that looks as if has been coloured in with a box of crayons. The score by Samuel Nobles largely consists of enjoyably weird, happy-go-lucky infomercial tones and Lowell A. Meyer’s cinematography takes real joy in finding and focusing on odd little corners of the production design.
There’s a lot that works in Greener Grass, certainly, but the frenzied comedic energy and the number of ideas it fits into its 90 minutes means that it’s impossible to really get a handle on what it’s trying to say. A basic jibe at the world of performatively perfect “soccer moms” is low-hanging fruit, but it’s not clear that the movie has anything in its brain beyond taking that idea and deploying some candy-coloured reductio ad absurdum.
It’s certainly true that Greener Grass is unfocused and seems to lack a central message, but there’s no denying its juggernaut of comic energy and the sheer, balls-to-the-wall invention of its premise and execution. This is a world in which transformation is normal and just about anything goes as long as the rictus grin of politeness is never diminished even for a second. The net curtains of suburbia always conceal something dark, but sadly DeBoer and Luebbe aren’t quite able to pin it down.
Dir: Jocelyn DeBoer, Dawn Luebbe
Scr: Jocelyn DeBoer, Dawn Luebbe
Cast: Jocelyn DeBoer, Dawn Luebbe, Beck Bennett, Neil Casey, D’Arcy Carden, Julian Hilliard, Asher Miles Fallica, Dot-Marie Jones
Prd: Natalie Metzger
DOP: Lowell A. Meyer
Music: Samuel Nobles
Run time: 96 mins
Greener Grass is in UK cinemas now.