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Greener Grass
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by Jay Seaver

"Not for everyone, but certainly for someone."
2 stars

If you can damn something with faint praise, then you can also praise it with uncertain damnation, and sometimes you must, because what else can you do for a comedy that only sporadically works for you and is so completely absurdist as to resist being pulled apart and examined? "Greener Grass" is weird and most definitely not to everyone's taste but has just enough bits that really work that I can't help but try to figure out whether it will work for someone who likes that sort of comedy or if it's just bad.

The film takes place in a bright-colored suburb where everybody drives golf carts and all the adults have braces, and though there's a killer on the loose, everyone's pretty sure it's the bagger from the grocery store and that weirdly makes it feel like a tight-knit neighborhood. Jill (Jacelyn DeBoer) and Lisa (Dawn Luebbe) are best friends, with sons Julian (Julian Hilliard) and Bob (Asher Miles Fallica) in the same second-grade class. The boys are playing soccer when Jill gives Lisa her baby, which is more than a bit odd to their husbands Nick (Beck Bennett) and Dennis (Neil Casey) - this is really the sort of thing they should talk about! But they're still all friends, and that's what's important.

It's kind of horrible to be two minutes into a 95-minute movie and realize that it does not seem to be your thing at all. Sure, you can just shut it off at home and this is not the sort of thing that necessarily sells out a theater, so you could probably bail, but there's a good chance that if you spent money on this movie (which hopefully has not been given a deceptively generic and sensible poster or bit of art to identify it), you're not the type to give up easily. Still, it's potentially difficult going from that first moment when Jill just gives Lisa her baby like that's a totally believable thing to do, and there are a lot of times when it's fair to wonder if creators Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe (who produce, write, direct, and star in the film) have put together an hour and a half of private, grotesque jokes into the sort of movie that inspires narratives about the emperor having no clothes, like they've tricked people into assuming that something that screwed-up must be genius.

Thing is, it hits too often for it to be an accident. It's not just that there are some very funny bits - every scene with D'Arcy Carden as the boys' teacher "Miss Human" is gold, for example - but that they Luebbe & DeBoer are clearly not flailing. Take Julian, who is a horrible little boy, source of a number of the movie's best and most relatable gags, but also something with the potential to drive the audience away, and the filmmakers handle the need for him not to wear out his welcome in clever fashion, finding a way to go for different jokes, switch another part of the movie up to compensate, and advance what story the movie has as well. There are a number of good comic performances as well, from how Dawn Luebbe's Lisa is kind of grotesque to Beck Bennett's dim but well-meaning Nick, who often gets to recognize the strangeness at hand while still being part of it.

The head of the ensemble is Jocelyn DeBoer, and to watch her long enough is to see at what she and her collaborators are getting at beyond just being strange. Jill isn't alone in her desperation to please or impress - the braces, for instance, are absolutely everyone trying to conform to some unhealthy idea of perfection - but for being the one who often looks the least peculiar, she comes across as painfully, tragically insecure, able to make this film a story of suffocating peer pressure, even if the satire is presented with excessive sugar rather than sharp edges. DeBoer wrings a great deal of humanity from Jill even if her character is perhaps doomed to remain a fool despite finding some measure of self-awareness.

It's a neat enough trick that I don't regret having made it through "Greener Grass" to see it, even if I spent an awful lot of the film recognizing attempts to make the viewer laugh which just were not working on me. There's undeniably something here and I'll bet that when the right viewer finds it, they'll love it without reservation, but this movie is definitely not for everyone.

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originally posted: 12/04/19 01:42:45
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