Sundance Review: ‘Greener Grass’ is a surrealist suburban comedy

Adult Swim fans will love this bongwater-soaked absurdist nightmare

 
 

Editor’s Note: Vanyaland’s Nick Johnston is out in Utah all week long covering the 2019 Sundance Film Festival; click here for our continued coverage from the fest and also check out our official preview.


Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe’s Greener Grass is somewhat of an anomaly in this year’s Midnight slate at Sundance, given the typical horror-heavy nature of the beast, but that’s kind of what’s great about midnight movies: Nobody can really agree on what they are, except for the fact that they’re off the beaten path. It’s a goofy awkward comedy in the vein of the bongwater-soaked shit that Adult Swim puts out, and I am most definitely a proponent of that brand of humor, so there wasn’t much of a chance that I’d walk out of this hating it.

But from the opening scene onward, in which one suburban mother literally just gives a freshly-born baby to another mother as they’re sitting in the stands at their kids’ soccer game, I kind of fell in love with the bizarro suburbia of DeBoer and Luebbe’s imagination. All of the adults, including the lead characters played by the two directors, have braces for whatever reason; the kids in the third-grade classroom that their own children share learn beloved songs about their teacher’s family-killing mother, and one of the characters gives birth to a soccer ball at one point in the film, after she shoved it in her dress for the attention while at her son’s game, where it is soon accepted as a member of her family. DeBoer’s character is ostensibly our protagonist, and the whole of the film tracks her evolution from “model” mother and wife (to her pool-water drinking husband and comically wimpy son) to the wild-eyed and crazy woman that she winds up finishing the film as.

So yeah, it’s not trying to do anything super new thematically (suburbia ruins souls and conformity sucks, guys) but Greener Grass is kind of a delight, being both stylistically interesting (the production design here, full of pastels and sunshine, is vivid) and very funny. It’s actually kind of astonishing how long DeBoer and Luebbe are able to keep the non-stop assault of funny jokes coming, as it was well over an hour into the 101-minute film that I stopped laughing at every single thing put in front of me. That’s partially due to how well they juggle their tones: Like most surrealist humor of this order, there’s always some sort of danger lurking about to add a little bit of adrenaline to the laughter, and it definitely doesn’t disappoint on that front.

It could also be that they hold onto their bits just long enough for them to be funny before releasing them into the void — such as a kissing session between the pairs of husbands and wives that goes on just a little too long — and are well-attuned to their well-blazed audience’s attention-spans as well. So when things get a little tired, they’ll throw in a clip from an in-universe TV show of some kind (the best of which is entitled “Kids With Knives,” which inspires Luebbe’s in-film son to rebel against his parents and start yelling, swearing and smoking) or just outright change one of the characters into another being entirely. But the jokes do grow a bit long in the tooth once the weirdness settles down, and it’s there that Greener Grass has to fall back on its story as opposed to its humor or the comedians in the cast, and it ultimately underwhelms on that front.

But I still think that there’s a lot to love about this tremendously goofy and funny movie, and that with a few rips off of your bestie’s vape with a bunch of friends, this would make for some excellent Saturday night viewing.

Follow Nick Johnston on Twitter @onlysaysficus. Featured image courtesy of Sundance Institute; photo by Lowell Mayer.