GREENER GRASS (2019)

June 12, 2019

2019 Oak Cliff Film Festival

 Greetings again from the darkness. Opening Night at the Oak Cliff Film Festival … a time to hold your breath while preparing for a unique movie experience. Yep, it happens every year – and this year, the festival’s 8th, may be the most fun yet. Our Thursday night offbeat treat for 2019 comes courtesy of co-writers, co-directors, co-producers, and co-stars Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe. These two highly creative filmmakers have expanded their award-winning 2015 short film (same title) to feature length instant indie comedic classic … and one surely to garner a cult following (just follow the laughter).

Ms. DeBoer stars as Jill and Ms. Luebbe is Lisa. They are best friends, neighbors, and passive-aggressive competitors in a manner only seen in today’s suburban settings. Think of THE STEPFORD WIVES or Seaside in THE TRUMAN SHOW, and then toss in color-coordinated family attire, golf carts for transportation, and braces on the teeth of every adult. More warped than idyllic, the wacky level of politeness is a source of comedy, and there are some gems during many of the segments. Consistent laughter in the nearly full Texas Theatre meant concentration was required to avoid missing the next killer line.

Oh yes … the killer. A stalker/possible serial killer is a menace that hovers in the background through most of the film. The threat is mostly teased as our locals go about unwittingly poking fun at soccer, baseball, yoga, accelerated classes, layered dips and music lessons. The self-imposed pressures of this existence are evident in both parents and kids – especially kids who watch unapproved TV shows like “Kids with Knives”.

Lest you think all of the comedy is derived from the two leads, know that Beck Bennett (“Saturday Night Live”) plays Jill’s husband, and Neil Casey plays Lisa’s significant other. Both are hilarious in contrasting styles, and Mary Holland is a hoot as the recent red-haired divorcee Kim Ann, and it’s D’Arcy Carden (“The Good Place”) who is the real scene stealer as Miss Human, the slightly-off second grade teacher. Julian Hilliard is immediately recognizable as young Luke from “The Haunting of Hill House”, and here he plays Julian, who is likely to make your own adolescent child’s transformation pale in comparison.

Is there an easier target for satire than suburbia … other than the current political climate, of course? Where do we look for happiness?  A friend’s husband? The neighbor’s house? Someone else’s baby? While fake flowers abound and represent the dream of exterior perfection, it should be noted that I only counted 2 f-bombs in the whole movie. The humor, though quite absurd and sometimes teasing the line with horror, is basically squeaky clean – an approach that helps it stand out in an era of today’s raunchy comedies trying to out-raunch each other. After playing Sundance, it’s likely to join the best comedies in the love-hate category. If you enjoy slightly demented social commentary, there is a good chance you’ll find humor here … though I keep drawing a blank trying to come up with a movie comparison. Perhaps that’s the best compliment that can be offered.

watch the trailer:


BESIDE STILL WATERS (2013)

November 14, 2014

beside still waters Greetings again from the darkness. Director Chris Lowell co-wrote the story with Mohit Narang, and there is really no other way to describe it than a modern day redux of The Big Chill (1983). If you are familiar with that film from 30+ years ago, you remember the narcissism, strained friendships, and emotional turmoil that were offset by a best-selling soundtrack. Three decades later we witness narcissism run amok and a crumbled version of friendship, this time offset by the guzzling of alcohol.

Daniel (Ryan Eggold, TV’s “The Blacklist“) has organized a reunion of his childhood friends back at the cabin on the lake where they shared many a summer. Daniel’s parents recently died in a car accident, and none of his “friends” showed up for the funeral … hence, the crumbled version of friendship. As they begin arriving at the cabin, we immediately categorize each: Tom (Beck Bennett, “Saturday Night Live“) is the wise-cracking slacker, James (Brett Dalton) is the TV Reality Show celebrity, Martin (Will Brill) and Abby (Erin Drake) are the high school sweethearts stuck in a strained marriage, and Charley (Jessy Hodges) is the free-spirited chick with a lust-filled history. The arrival of Daniel’s old flame Olivia (Britt Lower) is offset by her fiancé Henry (Reid Scott). May the oddballs be ever in your favor.

Sounding like the old man I am quickly becoming, this generation of thirty-somethings left me quite saddened. What made The Big Chill work, was the actual bond that tied the group together. Remember, they all showed up for a funeral … rather than being summoned for skipping one. The original group had charm, personality and was interesting; whereas this group remains focused on their own problems – oblivious to the needs and feelings of others. They find the bottom of a bottle or drugging an adversary to be actual solutions, rather than resorting to the effort involved with intimacy or conversation. Yes, sad I am.

Despite my issues with the possibility of this being an accurate portrayal of this generation, there are plenty of positives with the film. Lovell truly has a photographer’s eye and uses it for much of the camera work … it’s beautifully shot. Also, each member of this ensemble jumps right in to their character and does a superb job (especially Reid Scott). There is also a terrific segment of three conversations edited together that play off each other like some kind of wonderful parlor game. It’s the highlight of the film.

While much of the film plays like a passive-aggressive expose’, the script leaves no room for interpretation or analysis … Daniel actually spells out his true misguided mission. Beginning a movie with references to Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway is often a good start. However, Hemingway’s theory that all generations are lost, doesn’t mean that some aren’t more lost than others. The game of Whisky Slaps works not just as a scene, but also as a metaphor for watching this movie.

watch the trailer: