Seen at South by Southwest, Austin Texas: GREENER GRASS is an absurdist dark comedy where competition and perfectionism quickly erode a woman’s “perfect” life.
Greener Grass Still 1.jpg: Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe’sGreener Grass. Courtesy of IFC Midnight. An IFC Films Release
The plot of Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe’s debut feature film is bleak. A woman gives up her daughter, loses her son, and gets a divorce. Yet somehow this is all made hilarious when placed in the strange environs of a “perfect” community with alien customs. These affectations are silly and comedic, but they also each represent something far more complex than a punchline.
A strained friendship between Jill (Joeclyn DeBoer) and Lisa Wetbottom (Dawn Luebbe) anchors this film. From the outset the two ferociously compete with one another within the confines of their society’s expectations and manners. Jill embodies all the gendered expectations put on women about politeness, taken to their most extreme. She goes so far as to give Lisa her own newborn baby out of an abundance of amicability.
So it is Jill who ultimately suffers the consequences of what might be described in this film as toxic femininity. She is constantly embarrassed by her seven year old son who can’t control his bladder or play sports. Tseven-year-old manages to embody all the qualities his mother begged him for – by turning into a golden retriever. Jill’s insecurity and deep need for belonging in her friend group cause her to divorce her husband simply because her friends think she should. Jill, now childless and without a spouse, longs to get her baby back from her friend Lisa. But the power balance has shifted, and Lisa refuses to relinquish the child.
In fact Lisa, neglected by her husband sexually and hungry for attention, fakes a pregnancy with a soccer ball and later gives birth to and parents her Wilson-brand “child” to no refute from the community. As long as she’s fulfilling the expectations of “mother” and “caregiver” (while also reaping the attentional benefits of new baby social engagements), no one will say the emperor has no clothes.
And if that wasn’t enough to unpack, GREENER GRASS also lambasts the entitlement of white, able-bodied, privileged women. In an attempt at redemption in the third act, Jill returns to her childhood home where a black family now lives, and steals one of the children to replace her own. Lisa meanwhile is taking family portraits and asks for a chair to sit in, so a handicapped woman is placed on the ground so Lisa can achieve her desired pose in the photo.
Throughout all of this, a psychopath (Dot-Marie Jones) stalks the streets. She’s rumored to break into women’s homes and put on all their clothes – effectively stealing the lives they’ve worked so hard to create for themselves. It’s of course Jill and Lisa’s worst nightmare – that their lives are so empty and generic that literally anyone could simply step in one day and steal it all away.
The early moments of the film feature a grinning brace-face holding a smile as the film’s titles appear. As the list goes on, the lips begin to tremble in pain, the grin becoming more and more difficult to maintain. GREENER GRASS shows audiences who are paying attention that the lessons society teaches to women when taken to their extremes, are not only destructive and untenable but completely and totally ridiculous.