' ' Cinema Romantico: Greener Grass

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Greener Grass

Some movies trending toward bizarre tend to transmit on a low frequency, giving you time to find the film’s unique rhythm and tune in, kind of like a thick accent you need to for a little while before it makes sense. “Greener Grass”, on the other hand, provides no such time. Mirroring the pastel colors in which every character is dressed, effectively evincing that familiar, terrible sense of aggression by way of mandatory happiness, this vicious suburban satire written and directed by Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe essentially demands right up front “Are you in or are you out?” Indeed, at a children’s soccer game, when Lisa (Luebbe) admires the newborn baby that Jill (DeBoer) cradles in her arms, the latter hands infant right over to her friend; the baby literally belongs to Lisa now. It takes a second, a delayed kind humor where you process what just happened, and how quickly it did, and what it meant, and then you laugh, a brand of humor epitomizing a movie where horror and humor go hand-in-hand.

A wonder of world-building, “Greener Grass” creates a world so perfect it can only be creepy, its houses a series of Bluth-esque model homes and cars supplanted by golf carts, suggesting suburbia as akin to a golf country club, one spine-chillingly never-ending Augusta National. This might mean, as it usually does with these satirical residential nightmares, that the sordid stuff is happening behind closed doors, a la David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet” or Todd Solondz’s “Happiness.” But there are no closed doors in “Greener Grass”, and no untoward sexual desires. In one scene, Jill and Lisa accidentally line up next to the wrong husbands and it takes a few moments of making out with the incorrect spouse before they even realize, like marriage is just a matter of whoever you’re standing next to for the Instagram op. The metaphors the movie deploys for child-rearing, meanwhile, are, similar to the opening joke, wicked in their Wait, Whatedness?, equating kids as ornaments of obedience.

DeBeor and Luebbe come from the Upright Citizens Comedy Brigade, a sketch comedy troupe, and though they provide a narrative framework of a serial killer on the loose, hinted at throughout in unsettling point-of-view shots, they are generally disinterested in any kind of traditional rising action. That’s not to suggest “Greener Grass” is merely an unconnected series of bits and skits. No, it uses these bits and skits to create a mood of something akin to hypernormalization, where everything that seems so fake starts to feel real, like the pool water Jill’s husband (Beck Bennett) freely ingests. If he hardly seems to bat an eye no matter what happens, Jill, in the movie’s real through-line, spiritually disintegrates, without even seeming to know it, which DeBoer’s performance improbably conveys. In a truly bananas sequence, her character returns home to find another woman there and cooking in the kitchen, insisting it’s her house, not Jill’s, which Jill, of course, denies, though DeBoer’s air in resisting this bizarro home invasion grows meeker and meeker, as if in real time she really is doubting the validity of her home ownership, and consequently doubting the authorship of her own life, causing a snap from this sickly reality that takes her to a hysterical point of no return.

In Todd Haynes’s 1995 indie “Safe”, a suburban housewife (Julianne Moore) seems to suffer some sort of ineffable suburban malaise so acute that it literally infects her. Aesthetically that film bears little similarity to “Greener Grass’s” retina burning colors, though the cold and controlled nature of each one is, in its own way, striking similar, women who have reached a point where they can no longer exist in their environments even as their environments have stripped them of the intellectual acuity necessary to diagnose their emotional decay. And if it sounds strange, the end of “Greener Grass” nevertheless made me think of the end of “Last Christmas”, where the final shot of Emilia Clarke’s character shows her with a new hairdo, a familiar tonsorial means of communicating the girl’s gonna be alright. DeBoer’s frazzled ‘do, like she’s been electrocuted, sends up that cliché by sarcastically suggesting the exact opposite. When the movie ends, Jill’s back, but look at her – she’s gone.

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