On the surface, Greener Grass is a satire of our perfection-seeking culture. Filmmakers Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe use farcical comedy to reveal the absurdity of our modern day obsessions with beauty, wealth, and status. Yet there is an underlying horror to the film because, for all its ridiculousness, we know that it is all too real.
Greener Grass is like the ‘Nosedive’ episode of Black Mirror gone haywire. It centres on two bored housewives and neighbours named Jill and Lisa (DeBoer and Luebbe) who are constantly competing against one another. Their conversations are stilted and passive aggressive, filled with a half-hearted sincerity and completely phoney kindness. As they watch their sons play soccer in the opening scene, Lisa abruptly turns to Jill and flatly exclaims, “Oh my gosh, I didn’t even notice. You have a new baby.” Disturbingly amiable and desperate to please her well-off friend, Jill casually hands the baby off to Lisa. For these Insta-mommies, babies are nothing more than a fashionable accessory able to be bartered. This sequence sets the film’s thoroughly bonkers tone.
With side-splitting audacity, Greener Grass interrogates our cultural need to maintain superiority and keep up appearances without ruffling feathers. DeBoer and Luebbe craft bold and hilariously bizarre skits like nothing you’ve ever seen before. During one scene, Jill and Lisa start making out with their spouses (Beck Bennett and Neil Casey) at a barbecue, only to blink in curiosity when they realise it’s the wrong husband. The entire ensemble cast truly commits to inhabiting their off-kilter milieu, revealing how fake our society is in the face of politeness.
Jill and Lisa inhabit a Burton-esque, pastel-coloured suburbia full of never ending sunshine, manicured lawns, and immaculate Barbie dream houses. People travel by golf cart instead of cars because there is nothing for them outside of their insular little town. All of the residents wear braces despite having flawless teeth—a symbol of their constant striving for unattainable perfection. The John Carpenter-esque score adds a sense of fear and uncanniness to their suburban enclave. An unsettling malevolence lurks beneath this cookie-cutter world, as if something terrible is about to tear them all apart.
DeBoer and Luebbe toy with horror tropes in a zany plot line involving a serial killer stalking the neighbourhood in search of his next victim. The introduction of the “Bagger Murder” ignites dramatic turns involving a shape-shifting boy that take this film to surrealistic heights. Soon, the pressures of a Stepford Wife existence push Jill to a breaking point, leading to an electric ending. The aftereffects of her unhinged psyche are truly terrifying and serve as a warning to viewers if they also strive to maintain such façades. As the title indicates, Greener Grass highlights our constant looking ahead at what is next and on the other side, our envy at those who have more than us—so much so that gratification becomes fleeting and nothing ever feels good enough. We meticulously curate our lives, particularly on social media, so that there are no genuine human flaws, only impeccable highlight reels that bolster our own ego. We are in danger of becoming just like these robotic and stifled characters, shackled to our rigid desire for excellence and terrified of any defects. DeBoer and Luebbe pitch-perfect script hammers these messages with striking, original vision, creating a film that is truly exceptional.
by Caroline Madden
Caroline hails from the home state of her hero, Bruce Springsteen. Her favourite films include Dog Day Afternoon, Raging Bull, Inside Llewyn Davis, and The Lord of the Rings. She has an MA degree in Cinema Studies from SCAD and also appears in Fandor, Reverse Shot, Crooked Marquee, and IndieWire. You can follow her on Twitter @crolinss. Order her book Springsteen as Soundtrack here