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Monday, April 15, 2019

AFF '19: GREENER GRASS is your new favorite party movie

There is a rich history of suburban satire and horror, from The Stepford Wives to The Burbs to Halloween, but none capture the inherent weirdness in the suburban community like Greener Grass, the feature film debut of writer/director/stars Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe.

Greener Grass focuses on two moms, Jill (Jocelyn DeBoer) and Lisa (Dawn Luebbe) who struggle to raise their children in a bizarre suburban world. Jill's life and family slowly begin to crumble as she regrets giving her baby to Lisa, her husband becomes obsessed with drinking pool water, and her son continues to manifest odd bad behavior. Meanwhile, a bagger from the local grocery store has murdered a yoga instructor and and the killer stalks Jill from the shadows.

That's the most straightforward way I can explain the story, but it is so utterly absurd that this really doesn't do it justice. This is a world in which everyone wears pastel colored clothing at all times, where there is a TV show called "Kids with Knives" featuring commercials for baby food that is pre-chewed by real mothers, and where everyone drives golf carts instead of cars. (For Georgia natives, the movie was filmed in Peachtree City, the self-proclaimed golf cart capital of the world.) Lets just say that the totally unexplained fact that every single adult in the film has braces is easily the most normal thing in the film.

The movie is incredibly well designed. From the hundreds of strangely colored costumes, reminiscent in some ways to the films of Anna Biller, to the perfectly manicured lawns and matching color golf carts, the movie is rich with strange detail. The lighting, too, is very impressive; there are hardly any shadows seen in the film, as everything is brightly lit, giving the whole thing an atmosphere of an impossibly perfect community. The cinematography is excellent and impressive for such a low budget film, taking advantage of complex long shots and trick shots that really sell the existence of this strange alternate reality. Last but not least, the music by Samuel Nobles adds much to the film, swaying back and forth from 90's sitcom music to 80's horror synth. It will probably receive comparisons to something like Too Many Cooks–and it certainly has something in common there stylistically–but also surprisingly reminded me of last year's Mandy in some ways, but maybe that's just the Cheddar Goblin.

Greener Grass is one of the most fun movies I've ever seen. Every scene is packed full of bizarre, hilarious detail, from quick toss away lines to the names of the characters (the school teacher, Miss Human, is maybe my favorite). It is laugh out loud funny throughout, and I found myself remembering funny moments days later and giggling to myself. DeBoer and Luebbe are incredible as the constantly worrying and apologizing mothers, making the awkward and baffling process of one mother offering her baby to another on a whim seem as ordinary as a trip to the orthodontist. The directing partners have also surrounded themselves with a fantastic cast, including SNL alumni Beck Bennett and Neil Casey as their husbands and some great young actors, including The Haunting of Hill House's Julian Hilliard.

What makes Greener Grass especially awesome, though, is that while it could just feel like an extended version of a strange Adult Swim special, it always feels like there's something more under the surface. DeBoer has said that when she and Luebbe were writing the film (and the short film that it is based on), they had a rule: nothing should be weird just for weird's sake, but should serve a purpose or represent something larger within the narrative, and that really comes across. Sure, you can watch it and laugh your ass off without thinking about what it means when a child suddenly transforms into a dog, but the idea of a child turning into a young adult and growing away from one parent and towards the other is a very real conflict. Underneath it all, and especially in the unsettling ending, there's a truly scathing look at women's role in suburban communities, just with a bizarre and colorful veneer on top.

Greener Grass is destined for cult movie status, bound to be the blu-ray you immediately pop in when friends come over ("You haven't seen Greener Grass?!"). The key to its success is that it is wildly rich, rewarding repeated watches with little gags and details, and this is one I can't wait to watch and share many times in the coming years!

Greener Grass is directed by and stars Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe and is currently making its way around the festival circuit.
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