Brace Yourself

Greener Grass

by George Wolf

Two married couples are paired off beside each other, everyone smooching their respective spouse. They all sport gleaming braces and garish pastel-on-steroids outfits, swapping emotionless saliva until a voice breaks the moment.

“Wait a second, wrong husbands!”

Welcome to the so-wrong world of Greener Grass, the feature length adaptation of Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe’s award-winning short from 2015. DeBoer and Luebbe return as screenwriters and stars, plus this time add directing duties to ensure complete realization of the absurdist suburban hellscape they imagine.

Jill (DeBoer – so good in Thunder Road last year) and Lisa (Luebbe) are soccer mom besties whose sun-drenched days of gossip, golf carts and competition are thrown into upheaval when Jill gives Lisa her new baby, only to have the nerve to ask for the baby back when Jill’s young son Julian turns into a dog!

This is a late night sketch stretched to the point of no return, played with a desert-dry commitment by the game ensemble (which, appropriately enough, includes SNL’s Beck Bennett).

The end result is an over-the-top John Waters visual pastiche that’s constantly running headlong into a cheek defiantly dismissing its tongue as fake news. When DeBoer and Luebbe do bullseye their targets – with their vigil for a dead neighbor or a TV show called “Kids With Knives” – the laughs are uproarious, but the time between these winners can sometimes get lengthy.

For most people, the same joke five times is tiresome. But for some, that same joke fifteen times can become an absurd delight, and that is the space where this film plants roots that can only become deeper with time.

Because sometime in the near future, a parent will refer to their child’s teacher as “Miss Human,” and Greener Grass will have arrived. A smartly silly expose on the shallowest end of the suburban pool, this is a cult classic just waiting to happen.

Sit Tight, Take Hold

Thunder Road

by Hope Madden

Thunder Road is the best film you almost certainly missed in 2018. You should rectify that situation post haste.

Jim Cummings writes, directs and stars as Officer Jim Arnaud, a man at a crossroads. Who else would be at the center of a film named for a Springsteen tune?

Like one of the year’s other most insightful and original indie gems, Hereditary, Thunder Road opens at a funeral. Also like Ari Aster’s breathless exploration of familial loss and dysfunction, Thunder Road establishes the tone for the film, the mental state and general disposition of the lead, and an unusual perspective with its opening scene.

But Cummings takes his meditation on grief and existential dread in very different directions.

As both a filmmaker and a performer, Cummings walks a tonal tightrope strung just that side of hysteria. Equally earnest and absurd, comical and heartbreaking, the film and the lead turn compel your attention, your empathy, your discomfort and your love.

You will love Officer Jim Arnaud by film’s end, not regardless but because of his epic failures and bottomless reserve of vulnerability. It is impossible not to root for him, not to feel his humiliations, not to admire his corrective measures no matter how ridiculous they are.

The filmmaker’s assembled a wonderful supporting cast. Nican Robinson, in particular, bursts through best friend/partner clichés to develop a tender character whose wearied facial expressions say more about his years of friendship than Cummings’s pitch perfect dialog could manage.

Macon Blair, Kendal Farr and Jocelyn DeBoer all bring a wonderfully familiar but nuanced small town resignation to their scenes that suits the film’s overall tone and creates an ecosystem where Jim Arnaud could certainly exist.

Cummings’s film is hilarious and unblinking, uncomfortable yet kind, and above all things, forgiving. A lot of filmmakers have taken inspiration from Springsteen’s lyrics and brought a dying blue collar American to the screen. None have done the Boss justice the way Cummings has.