Film Fest 919: There is an uncompromised vision at the core of “Greener Grass.” It’s a vision that will exclude the vast majority of the audience, but one can’t deny this movie is exactly as bizarre as intended. Whether that’s a positive or a negative will depend on your sense of humor. Closer in style and comedy execution to late night Adult Swim programming, or even the short “Too Many Cooks,” this film exists in its own strange little bubble. For most of the folks who saw it in Chapel Hill at Film Fest 919, it had to be a surreal cinematic experience. That could be transcendent for the right viewer. This pundit, however, saw what the filmmakers were going for, but never quite found it to be funny.
“Greener Grass” is an absurdist comedy that also wants to be a suburban satire. The absurdity is always in evidence, whether or not it works. The satire, however, is only really hammered home at the very end. It bubbles on the surface all the time, but the creative forces here seem to need to get serious at the last minute. It’s a miscalculation that only further muddies the already bizarro tone. It may want to be “The Stepford Wives” on mind altering substances, but that mark is blown by with one batshit crazy element after the next.
There’s barely a plot. Mostly, it comes off close to a series of vignettes, showcasing the jaw-dropping oddity of a suburban town. All of the healthy adults wear braces, for example, while wearing bright blues and pinks, with completely random outfits, to boot. When Lisa (Dawn Luebbe) compliments best friend Jill (Jocelyn DeBoer) and her newborn baby, the child is handed to her as a gift. At home, Jill’s husband Nick (Beck Bennett) has developed a taste for his filtered pool water. One day, when her son Bob (Asher Miles Fallica) falls into the pool, he emerges as a golden retriever. For everyone else, this is just a normal day. For Jill, it previously was, but she’s starting to see how insane it all is.
As Jill begins to struggle more and more with the weirdness of this society, regretting giving up one child and seeing the other turn canine, the film attempts to come to its thesis. Oddly, for a movie that largely eschews plot points and real structure, this lurch towards a purpose even further discombobulates the viewer. You’re either in on the joke or you’re not, and if you’re not, no one here is interested in throwing you a bone.
Everyone in the cast goes all in, committing themselves to a premise that doesn’t give them much to work with. Beck Bennett, along with Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe (who crafted the flick, as you’ll see below), get the most to do, and do their best to sell the craziness. They can’t fully pull it off, but the deadpan humor allows them all to be the straight man, in a picture where everything is utter lunacy. It’s unique, one has to concede that much. Other cast members include Neil Casey, Jim Cummings, and the aforementioned Asher Miles Fallica, but they fare no better. More vivid performances would have helped invest you, but this is all about the style and bizarre premise.
Writer/directors (and stars) DeBoer and Luebbe deserve credit for seeing this idea through to the finish line. They clearly set out to make a cult classic, and at best, that’s what they did. It’s just that their screenplay never figures out where the laughs should be. The only element of their script that fully works is the gag involving the dog, since it’s fairly simple animal humor. Their direction fares much better, making use of bright/garish colors to emphasize how upside down the world their depicting is from normalcy. It’s not enough to save the day, but it’s one element worth praising.
You don’t have to like “Greener Grass” to appreciate what it attempts to do. At the same time, that doesn’t mean it warrants a recommendation either. Easily the strangest title at Film Fest 919, it seems destined to appeal to a small cult segment of the population, but few others. Whatever DeBoer and Luebbe do next is worth keeping an eye on, but hopefully their follow up lets more of us in on the joke.