'Greener Grass': Film Review

Courtesy of Sundance Institute
A well-manicured lawn of wit.

Co-writers/directors Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe star in this black comedy of suburban manners, with guest appearances from D'Arcy Carden, Mary Holland and Beck Bennett.

Franz Kafka meets Serial Mom meets Edward Scissorhands somewhere on the edge of whatever alternative universe The Lobster was set could be one clumsy way to describe Greener Grass, a frequently funny black comedy feature debut from the writing-directing team of Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe, both Upright Citizens Brigade alumni.

Offering up a hot, flaky slice of suburban surrealism with a side of weird, this upgrade of a same-named short the two women directed in 2015 doesn’t quite sustain high-pitch hilarity for its entire 102 minutes, but at its best it’s still pretty freaking funny. DeBoer and Luebbe delight as pastel-clad frenemies, while upcoming supporting players from TV such as D’Arcy Carden (The Good Life, Barry), Mary Holland (Veep) and Beck Bennett (Saturday Night Live) lend sturdy backup. Further festival exposure following a recent premiere at Sundance is a dead cert, followed by a plausible afterlife as a cult item in niche distribution. But most of all this represents a gilt-edged calling card for its co-directors.

In a leafy edge-city nowhere, that, judging by the local flora and architecture, might be somewhere in the American Southeast, everyone drives around in golf carts and all the adults — but weirdly, not the kids — have braces. Lauren Oppelt’s witty costume design kits out each character in varying shades of one or two colors from a palette of baby-shower colors. The husbands don madras Bermuda shorts, while the women strut in pumps and fit-and-flare frocks that would suit Betty Draper in her prime. The time frame is not meant to be the actual 1950s or early '60s (the period in which DeBoer and Luebbe’s short The Arrival is set), though the retro vibe is reinforced mightily by Leigh Poindexter’s similarly unsettling yet fabulous production design.

One day at a kids’ soccer match, as they watch their sons play, willowy blond Lisa Wetbottom (Luebbe) notices that her dear friend, the petite and perky Jill Davies (DeBoer), has a new baby girl, Madison (Abigail and Allison Kurtz). Seemingly flattered by Lisa’s compliments on Madison's cuteness and keen to be neighborly, Jill gives Madison to Lisa for keeps, without even consulting her husband, Nick (Bennett). The latter is a bit put out, but takes the loss of his only daughter in stride since they still have son Julian (Julian Hilliard), a likable kid even if his lack of sporting skill makes him a constant source of disappointment for Nick.

At Lisa’s house, Madison comes to live with her new mom, who renames the baby Paige, and is greeted by new father Dennis (Neil Casey, Ghostbusters) and brother Bob (Asher Miles Fallica), whose inability to match Julian’s academic success fills Lisa with envy. After a while, the point of the title becomes pretty obvious with every character longing to keep up with or exceed the Joneses, or in this case Wetbottoms, in a merry circular firing squad of jealousy and barely repressed desire.

To DeBoer and Luebbe’s credit, they manage to flesh out this pretty thin premise with an assortment of wry subplots, some of which work better than others, like random suggestions from the audience at an improv performance. There’s a kid who turns suddenly into a dog, a serial killer on the loose and someone who shoves a volleyball up her dress in an effort to convince everyone she’s pregnant, cueing the inevitable Cast Away jokes once the blessed event occurs. The cast commit enthusiastically to the material, walking that fine line between comic exaggeration and an almost earnest dramatic sincerity.

Production companies: Gulp Splash Productions, Vanishing Angle
Cast: Jocelyn DeBoer, Dawn Luebbe, Neil Casey, Beck Bennett, D’Arcy Carden, Mary Holland, Julian Hilliard, Asher Miles Fallica, Hollyn Johnston
Directors-screenwriters: Jocelyn DeBoer, Dawn Luebbe
Producer: Natalie Metzger
Executive producers: Jocelyn DeBoer, Dawn Luebbe, Jeff Roberts, Matt Miller
Director of photography: Lowell A. Meyer
Production designer: Leigh Poindexter
Costume designer: Lauren Oppelt
Editor: Taylor Gianotas
Music: Samuel Nobles
Casting: Amey Rene
Venue: Sundance Film Festival (Midnight)

Sales: 30West

102 minutes