Review: 'Greener Grass' Explores The Suburban Jungle The smiles are all forced and the outfits color-coded in this tale of female one-up-manship. "It's gloriously nonsensical," says our critic, "and yet it reverberates with eerie truth."
NPR logo Suburban Satire 'Greener Grass' Offers Surreal, Pastel-Hued Truths

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Movie Reviews

Suburban Satire 'Greener Grass' Offers Surreal, Pastel-Hued Truths

Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe's Greener Grass take politeness to the absurd with two feuding soccer moms played by Jocelyn DeBoer (left) and Dawn Luebbe (right). IFC Midnight hide caption

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IFC Midnight

Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe's Greener Grass take politeness to the absurd with two feuding soccer moms played by Jocelyn DeBoer (left) and Dawn Luebbe (right).

IFC Midnight

There's something very strange about Greener Grass.

Well, actually, there are many strange things in this fever-dream of a suburban satire: unruly children transformed into golden retrievers, underwear touted proudly as neck scarves, an entire population of adults wearing braces on straight teeth — but perhaps the most unsettling bit is just how familiar it all feels.

The film is the absurdist, pastel-painted brainchild of Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe — a comedic writing/directing duo who together make up Gulp Splash Productions — and is based on their short film of the same name. After much critical acclaim on the festival circuit, Greener Grass is slated for limited release this weekend.

The film follows Jill (DeBoer) and Lisa (Luebb e), two soccer moms competing in savage levels of one-up-manship and passive aggressive politeness. In terms of plot, there's not much more to it than that— we simply watch them go about their middle-class routines and delight in the deliciously strange, surrealist ways Lisa usurps every aspect of Jill's life.

"Oh my gosh, I didn't even notice, you have a new baby!" exclaims Lisa to Jill from the soccer stands, in the opening minutes of the film.

"Oh yeah, isn't she cute? We wanted to try something new," responds Jill with a laugh.

After Lisa gushes about how adorable baby Madison is, Jill smiles, thinks for a second, and then gleefully offers to give her friend her baby. Lisa is reluctant at first, but then gives in, accepting the tiny salmon-swathed thing in a slow motion sequence overlaid with foreboding, X-Files-esque tones. The baby doesn't take right away.

"Oh, we just bonded," explains Jill, "I've been her mom since birth. She just has to get used to you!"

Brace-faced smiles all around, and then further and further down the rabbit hole we go; in a town in which every mom drives a golf cart, every family stays within their color palette, and every friend seems just a little bit peeved at Jill for giving away baby Paige, nee Madison: "Why would you give your baby to Lisa, and not to me?" cries the excellent Mary Holland as the anguished, green-hued new divorcee, Kim Ann.

The sharp edge of female friendships is familiar fodder for DeBoer and Leubbe, whose past collaborative work includes a handful of short films all dedicated to an (often twisted) view inside the female psyche. They're women who like to write about women; and who, it's clear, delight in subverting feminine norms, in taking your basic comedy of manners and extrapolating the sarcasm to the nth degree.

In Greener Grass, we see female domesticity at its most bizarre: a psychedelic Leave it to Beaver with the oddity of The Addams Family, the cattiness of Mean Girls, and the off-beat humor of Arrested Development. It's gloriously nonsensical — and yet, it reverberates with eerie truth.

Sure, they name their children Citronella and sing children's songs about mass murderers and sometimes forget whose husband is whose, but trust me, you know these women. They're the ones at the office Christmas party telling you how brave your outfit choice is; they're the mother at the PTA bake sale who only ever makes her cookies from scratch; they're that neighbor with that tight-lipped smile after hearing about your promotion at work.

Whether or not you've spent any or all of your life in suburbia; the judginess, the worry, the constant topping, the envy seeping throughout this surrealist film will feel very, very real indeed.

In DeBoer's pretty-in-pink Jill, we see that woman who apologizes to you after you step on the back of her shoe — so obsessed with being accepted she's all but destroyed by her own politeness. This is perhaps best exemplified near the end of the film, when Jill abruptly separates from her husband, Nick (a bewildered Beck Bennett).

"As you know, Julian," Jill explains to her son, "Kim Ann recently got a divorce, and she says she's much happier, so now my friends think that I should get a divorce."

In Luebbe's polished-purple Lisa, we get an almost too-convincing portrait of the ultimate frenemy. And while the film centers around the doe-eyed Jill, it's Luebbe's Lisa who gets to land the most comedic punches (one of the silliest gags involves Lisa birthing a soccer ball). Together, they're a dynamic, deliciously odd yin and yang.

And then of course, there's the (literally) colorful cast of ensemble characters that round out Jill and Lisa's world — a comedic gold mine that doesn't disappoint. Bennet and Neil Casey both shine as the women's respective husbands. Janicza Bravo is hilarious as tangerine-clad neighbor, Marriott, and D'Arcy Carden (you know her as Janet from The Good Place) is the much put-upon teacher charged with the care of all students, both human and canine. Then there's a truly, truly odd cameo by Dot-Marie Jones (Coach Beiste from Glee) which is, if not totally necessary, an apt punctuation mark on the film's overall theme.

Overall, Greener Grass may feel more like a long series of sketches than a feature-length film — but comedy aside, the punchy, Wes Anderson-meets-80's-music-video aesthetic of cinematographer Lowell A. Meyer, matched with Lauren Oppelt's impeccable costume design, offer delights of their own.

But if not for the color or the comedy, maybe come for the social commentary. You'll be surprised — or at least, I was — by how much a silly, madcap comedy such as this one might make you think. The grass may be greener on the other soccer field, but in this case, that's only because it's built on a graveyard.