The best examples of surrealist cinema plunge into perturbed characters and enrich their anxiety, giving an audience for their unconscious. The more laborious specimens tend to indulge their weird world too much, and the characters become almost secondary. Greener Grass — the colourful yet aimless debut from Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe (who also star) — has a lot of discombobulating fun, wandering blindly in its bizarre neighbourhood. But it doesn’t delve deep enough into its apparently contented citizens to hold our attention for long.
For me, the surreal experience is always a preferable one. For the first twenty minutes or so, it’s a thrill to simply embrace the madness. The grownups all wear braces, everyone drives around in golf buggies, and children can morph into Golden Retrievers without many, if any, questions. When soccer mum Jill (DeBoer) is watching her boy play badly on the pitch, she, out of nowhere, smiles and offers her friend Lisa (Luebbe) her newborn baby (‘do you want her?’). And Lisa accepts. Simple as that. But, before long, this leads Jill into a delayed spiral of guilt and doubt that takes too long to push to anywhere interesting.
The oversaturated, seemingly perfect suburban environment evokes a darker undergrowth; the small-town norms and colours hiding something buried, something that everyone seems to know but nobody acknowledges — immediately calling to mind Tim Burton’s dark fairytale Edward Scissorhands and David Lynch’s gruesome neo-noir Blue Velvet. But Greener Grass is much more subtle about that darkness, leaving it for the viewer to decide for themselves in the town’s strange happenings.
There are plenty of strange and funny jokes along the way, the absurdity often reaching Monty Pythonesque proportions. This kind of humour isn’t for everyone, as proved in my screening where I was often the only one laughing. But, equally, many scenes couldn’t even force a chuckle; often the joke isn’t clear until the underwhelming punchline.
An occasional, Pennywise-like presence lurks around the corner: a maniacal murderer of a supermarket bagger, seen through creepy POV shots, pushing trolleys and laughing like a cartoon villain. This plays into Jill’s internal anxieties, but doesn’t feel all that relevant until the thrillingly violent final act. Up until that point, the weirdness of the world dries up, losing its comedy and intrigue. It’s no surprise that Greener Grass is adapted from DeBoer and Luebbe’s short film of the same name, as it’s clear the story’s been rolled, stretched, and torn to pieces.
Things aren’t hopeless for DeBoer and Luebbe, however. There’s a value in the twisted world they’ve built, satirising the ridiculous, unquestioned norms in society. It’s exciting to watch a film that breaks so far away from the usual standards — creating a baffling, if bumbling, experience.
|Greener Grass Review|
Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe create a strange, occasionally funny world that’s immersive at first, but soon dries up. A baffling, if bumbling, experience.