The narcotized normality of suburbia takes a pastel-colored pummelling in “Greener Grass,” a daft and dark comedy from two alumni of the comedy troupe, Upright Citizen’s Brigade.
That shared credit, where Dawn Luebbe and Jocelyn DeBoer connected, tells you what to expect — broad, scattershot, random and deadpan swipes at faddish, amoral and faintly repellant suburbanites. It won’t be to many tastes, but this “Stepford” meets “The Prisoner” in “The Truman Show” satire is engineered for cult status, and sure to own it.
In an unnamed planned community where life is so insulated that everyone knows everyone, and everyone must use the same orthodontist (Braces for all!) , everybody gets around in golf carts and every single person is too polite — or meek — to be the first to roll through a four-way-stop.
It’s a community where routine seems…routine, it is impulse, bend-over-backwards politeness and easy on-the-fly shaming drives society.
And what they get used to, accept as normal? Wow.
A murder by a bag packer at the local market is shrugged off, even as cops in the cutest teal uniforms (Shorts!) stake the place out in plain sight.
Provincialism rules, conformity and how to achieve it is the norm.
And Jill (co-writer/director Jocelyn DeBoer) and Nick (Beck Bennett of “Saturday Night Live”) spend their smiling, conforming lives a tad mortified. Their kid, Julian (Julian Hilliard) just isn’t right. He’s unfocused, scattered, highly strung and marching to his own one-armed drummer. He treats all physical contact as an attack. That makes him the perfect soccer “flopper.” But his random shrieks and wails go up in volume when a game of catch with Dad goes terribly, if not remotely injuriously, wrong.
Jill spends her life apologizing, at least in part, because of Julian.
Maybe that explains her chat at the soccer game with bestie Lisa (co-writer/director Dawn Luebbe). Jill’s second baby, Madison, is on her hip. Nothing gets by Lisa.
“Oh, I didn’t even notice you have a baby!”
“We wanted to try something new!”
Lisa wishes she had a newborn.
“You want her? TAKE her! She’s yours now!”
“Thank you SO much!”
Baby Madison becomes Baby Page, just like that.
Vapidity is not gender-specific, here. The couples mix up their mates (Neil Casey plays Lisa’s husband), but only after a little competitive public displaying of affection at a cookout.
Nick’s new passion is their new pool, whose water he tinkers with and tests until he’s at the point he carries gallons of it around with him.
“Here, TRY this!”
In that setting, the most bizarre occurrence of all barely registers with Jill and Nick. Julian, in one of his many moments of attention-grabbing drama, plunges into the pool at Nick’s 40th birthday party. He emerges as, well, a Golden Retriever?
Jill, ever-rattled, always-apologizing, just goes along with it. Nick? He’s lost a son who can’t play catch, who wets himself in fear on a daily basis in second grade, who ruins every soccer match with his flopping. But he’s gained someone who wants to play with dad, frolic and a natural canine athlete.
Nick is overjoyed. So what if Julian is kicked out of “Rocket Math?”
“D’you think he was going to be an accountant?”
“Greener Grass” rides this randomness, and a lot of insta-shaming moments from Lisa — who won’t give back Jill’s baby, even though Jill doesn’t want to be “an Indian giver.”
“You can’t SAY that now!” Lisa’s up on everything people aren’t allowed to do or say any more. And she’s not alone. It’s the lifeblood of this place — shaming over potluck dishes, over the boy whose parents let him watch “Kids Play with Knives” and who learned to swear and act-out from it.
What I can’t say is that “Greener Grass” is much of a movie, that it held together for me. It’s like three “Upright Citizens Brigade” episodes, built on a common cast and haphazzardly selected themes, barely jelling into a “story.”
Still, see “Greener Grass” for the set pieces. The teacher, Miss Human (D’Arcy Carden) sings a ballad about her sharecropper/spree killer mother, accompanying herself on her class guitar — which she’s plainly not playing.
Lisa, on a whim, grabs a soccer ball, shoving it under her dress and letting this world see she’s pregnant (carrying that joke all the way to term).
Neighbor Kim Ann (Mary Holland) lets the world know she’s divorcing by having people over as her husband packs his things into their golf cart.
“Sit. I made lemonade. We’re watching.”
No, set pieces don’t make a movie, and there’s a struggle not to let anyone have a character arc, make a journey into self-awareness. They almost let it happen, but don’t.
MPAA Rating: unrated, profanity
Credits: Written and directed by Jocelyn DeBoer, Dawn Luebbe. An IFC Midnight release.
Running time: 1:36