Greener Grass impressively threads its non sequiturs and bizarre visual gags into a cogent satire of a decayed way of American life.
Greener Grass is, at heart, a film about female friendships, but not one that traverses the usual arcs of inseparable trust, momentary fracture and ultimate reconciliation. The relationship between Jill and Lisa (Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe, also the writers and directors) is volatile from the start, rooted in passive-aggressiveness and the one-ups-manship of middle-class aspirationalism. The imbalance between the two is obvious; watching their children play a soccer match, Lisa acts so blithely toward her friend that they speak for several minutes before Lisa glances down at the bundle in Jill’s arms and exclaims “Oh my gosh, I didn’t even notice, you have a new baby!” Jill, so grateful that her pal noticed, immediately panics and offers the infant to Lisa to keep, and Lisa accepts without pause. Later, when Jill calms down and realizes what she has done, she meekly makes several requests to get her child back, receiving responses that escalate from falsely sweet refusal to outrage from her supposed bestie.
This exploitative, codependent relationship takes place against a backdrop of pristine suburbia. Colors are so saturated that you expect the grass to start dripping, and everything is lit in a bright haze that bathes everything in a heavenly glow. The care that everyone takes with the neighborhood’s appearance, and their own, reflects the contest of wills that Jill and Lisa wage with each other. Every adult in the film wears braces over perfect teeth and wears bright but lifeless clothing, a status symbol of yuppie form and function. The town’s residents speak to each other in arrhythmic pleasantries, their cadences sounding like forced politeness. This injects tension into every interaction, exacerbating the accusatory paranoia that ripples underneath everyone’s chumminess. One friend, for example, calmly but furiously castigates Jill in a grocery store for her child hearing the word “butt” from Jill’s son, Julian (Julian Hilliard), in a parody of “think of the children” moral conservatism. The rituals of middle-class families play out in unbearable excess, as in the torment of a children’s band recital rendered in such blaring atonality that for a moment the film sounds as if it were scored with free jazz.
Such scenes render suburban middle-class banality as a hell of one’s own making, but it is through Lisa and Jill’s competitive war of attrition that we see the intense, conscious effort needed to maintain this ecosystem of supposed bliss. Every minor thing that one does the other must attempt to outdo, as in a scene where Lisa gives her husband a small kiss, prompting Jill to kiss her own husband, which then escalates into both women making out with their men as the camera films them in hilariously uncomfortable close-ups of arcing tongues and saliva strands. Jill, forever attempting to catch-up to Lisa, never able to best her, gradually loses her mind from the pressure of being second best, and she becomes ever more susceptible to Lisa’s increasingly aggressive mind games. Gradually, Jill’s alienation starts to affect the world around her, prompting erratic behaviors like whimsical decisions to divorce all the way to surreal developments such as people transforming from humans to animals.
The film’s final act, in which the various underlying tensions rupture and rend the seams of this immaculately maintained suburban fantasia play like an extended version of one of Adult Swim’s horror-satire “Infomercials” shorts. This is particularly true of the payoff of the recurring glimpses of some vicious, nihilistic person stalking the neighborhood and muttering violent fantasies. Combined with the off-handed references to frequent murders in the area, the turn toward the brutal expands upon the domestic strife simmering under everyone’s carefully maintained façade of contentment. For all the film’s detached, surreal humor, it keenly peels away the layers of its own exaggerated paradise to reveal both the rampant paranoia and genuine violence that runs through communities supposedly free of the crime that plagues the cities that suburban dwellers fled. Greener Grass impressively threads its non sequiturs and bizarre visual gags into a cogent satire of a decayed way of American life, pushing the consumerist commentaries of 1950s melodrama into black comedy about the manner in which the last stragglers of a since-depleted middle class will stop at nothing to maintain their cocoon of imagined perfection.