- Narrative Feature/Finalist in Competition
- 95 Minutes/USA/2019
- Directors: Jocelyn DeBoer & Dawn Luebbe
Premise: A deliciously twisted comedy set in a demented, timeless suburbia where every adult wears braces on their straight teeth, couples coordinate meticulously pressed outfits, and coveted family members are swapper in more ways than one in this competition for acceptance.
Greener Grass (a finalist at the 28th Heartland Film Festival) does for suburban soccer mom culture what David Wain’s Wet Hot American Summer did for summer camp. It is a surreal comedy that definitely goes all-in on its level of absurdity. The opening scene involves a woman complimenting another woman on her new baby. The mother then offers the baby to the other woman as if it is a hat or piece of a jewelry she is gifting to an envious friend.
The movie follows through on this level of bizarre humor throughout its runtime and, for the most part, does an admirable job of sustaining the comedy. There’s a voyeuristic murderer on the run subplot that I feel didn’t quite mesh with the rest of the film, though. Not only because it was somewhat of a harsh turn in terms of tone, but also because I simply found the character interactions outside of that subplot much more interesting and engaging.
What I found most surprising was the way the adults interact with each other in Greener Grass. This surrealistic take on suburban life is populated with adults (sporting braces despite having straight teeth) who all have an air of stunted social development about them. A child asks his mother to stay up late. When his mother tells him no, saying it’s a school night, the son cuts her off and yells, “You’re a school.” The reactions are played so well by the parents as the father rushes to his wife to reassure her that she is, in fact, not a school. Later, at a candlelight vigil, a man making a speech about the murderer’s victim, becomes overcome with emotion unrelated to the victim and asks for reassurance from his mother in the crowd.
This level of self-centeredness and basic need for nurturing permeates throughout all of the adult characters. Yet, they are not unsympathetic. The actors play these scenes of heightened emotion as if they are playing toddlers in constant dramatic duress over something as insignificant as having to eat vegetables or not getting ice cream. It maybe shouldn’t work as well as it does. However, everyone plays it so perfectly straight that I found myself starting to buy into the drama, albeit with a wink and a smile at the absurdity of it.
There are moments where the comedy starts wears out its welcome a little bit, but there are plenty of turns in the plot to compensate for it. The surprise introduction of a dog to the story is the ultimate weird turn that breathes new life into the plot in a delightfully strange way. Since it’s played so straight by the actors, you can’t help but laugh. There’s no straight man in the comedy routine, leaving no one to question the absurdity of the situation with the dog. And that’s why it works so spectacularly well for me. These characters exist in this strange world and are a delight to watch because of the inherent ludicrousness of their lives.
Greener Grass is based on a short film of the same name that I had the pleasure of seeing a few years ago at Indy Film Fest. It left such an impression on me that I was ecstatic to see the feature length version at Heartland. The feature length version has some slight hiccups when it comes to the ill-fitting murderer subplot and some of the comedy wears thin late in the movie. But there is plenty of good within this film and it is filled with off-the-wall, unique comic situations that will leave an impression and keep you laughing well after you see it.
Showtimes at HIFF28
- Friday, Oct. 11 – 10:10am: AMC Castleton Square 14
- Tuesday, Oct. 15 – 7:30pm: DeBoest Lecture Hall at Newfields
- Saturday, Oct. 19 – 5:20pm: AMC Castleton Square 14
- Sunday, Oct. 20 – 12:00pm: The Toby at Newfields