Heartland 2019: Greener Grass

Here’s a challenge: You watch Greener Grass, and then try to review it.

It’s a Herculean task because everything about Greener Grass defies description. I can give you the facts: The movie was written and directed by Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe. DeBoer stars as Jill and Luebbe as Lisa, two suburban moms with seemingly identical lives (and unnecessary braces) who nevertheless covet what they’re missing and what they believe the other one has. You know, like the title.

From there — from the outset, really — things get trickier. In the very first scene, set against a children’s soccer game, Lisa comments on how much she “loves” Jill’s new baby. Jill thanks her, and then, after a beat, says with utter sincerity, “Lisa, do you want her?” 

And just like that, with a be-manacled smile from Jill and a hungry look from Lisa, soundtracked by a score that sounds straight out of a slasher, Jill’s baby is no longer her baby. Jill’s baby is Lisa’s baby.

Because that’s how the world works in Greener Grass

To say that this world is satirical is a serious understatement. The term “Lynchian” has also been thrown around about Greener Grass, but people tend to say “Lynchian” when what they really mean is “weird,” and on the spectrum of weird, DeBoer-Luebbean might as well be the very opposite of Lynchian. But we’ll get to that.

Greener Grass is full to the brim with social commentary of a particularly feminine bent, to the point where there’s not a single satirist or surrealist — male or female, in film or otherwise — to which there is an equal comparison. The most analogous piece of media I can think of is Marina & the Diamonds’ Electra Heart, a concept album that critiques female archetypes in American pop culture (beauty queen, housewife, homewrecker, etc.) through bubbly dance-pop and blistering lyrics. Marina Diamandis describes the character of Electra Heart as the antithesis of everything she stands for because she’s lost herself and become a vacuous person. This analysis could just as easily apply to DeBoer’s Jill, especially as the film progresses and she begins to see just how empty her life has become.

From the start, Greener Grass is written with an internal logic so skewed that it feels as though Jane Austen were possessed by the Mad Hatter just as she put pen to paper, but even that analogy isn’t quite American enough or modern enough to get to the heart of what the film satirizes. The community where Jill, her husband, Nick (Beck Bennett), her son, Julian (Julian Hilliard, the most adorable child actor of all time), and her former baby live is distinctly American — suburban, not quite gated, but certainly exclusive. Families are color-coded, housewives are competitive frenemies and children are expected to excel at everything without complaint so they will reflect well on their parents.

If it sounds suffocating, it is, but Jill gets wise to this slowly. It starts when she gives her baby away and builds as she begins to suspect she’s done something awful … for which no one condemns her. Instead, her husband couldn’t be less bothered by the swap, and another friend is only upset because Jill didn’t give the baby to her. If this makes you think of the stigma around postpartum depression, then you’re right on the money — and that’s just one of the female anxieties tackled through absurdity in this film.

To list them all would be both exhaustive and spoilerific, and believe me when I say you don’t want to be spoiled for one more bit of this movie. This is a rabbit hole better tumbled down blind because that’s the only way to fully appreciate the moments that will make you bark with laughter or recoil in absolute horror. And, along the same lines, that’s why it’s impossible to do justice to Greener Grass in a review. I could write 2,000 words on any given scene in this movie, but not without ruining it for you. It’s quite the conundrum on every possible level.

DeBoer and Luebbe have crafted a movie that gets to the heart of the horror show that is being a suburban American woman in 2019, a movie that both sympathizes with Jill and censures her in equal measure. And it’s the emphasis on stylized mockery that sets them unmistakably apart from the many comparisons to David Lynch; his revelations of the dark underbelly of Americana are rooted in the real world even when it gets weird while DeBoer and Luebbe’s American community is too fantastical to be real — even if it is entirely too recognizable. 

This is where I, a native of Noblesville, Indiana, shoot a sideways glance at our neighbors in Carmel. Sure, sure, I married a Carmelite, and not everyone from Carmel would fit in the world of Greener Grass while just as many upper-class residents from Noblesville would. But there’s a reason why they call my hometown “Nobletucky” and why we make fun of them for their roundabouts. 

There’s an obsession with status and appearance that exists in Carmel in ways that, from an outsider’s perspective, comes off as sinister. A step away from Stepford. Combine that with an insider’s apprehension for her own place in a community like that, and you’ve barely scratched the surface of the brilliant, droll and disturbing film that is Greener Grass

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Greener Grass is a Narrative Feature finalist at the 2019 Heartland Film Festival. Tickets can be purchased here.

SHOWTIMES

10:10 a.m., Friday, Oct. 11 — AMC Castleton
7:30 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 15 — DeBoest Lecture Hall at Newfields
5:20 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 19 — AMC Castleton
Noon, Sunday, Oct. 20 — The Toby at Newfields



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Aly Caviness is lifelong film obsessive, co-owner / administrator of Midwest Film Journal, and member of the Indiana Film Journalist's Association. Through Lynch, her grandmother taught her how to spot “The Girl,” and through Frankenstein, her grandfather taught her how to love in spite of fear. She blames Jack Sparrow for her MA in colonial Atlantic history and Guy Pearce for her marriage.


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