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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Greener Grass, or: Something in the Water

*Spoilers follow*

It can’t be too much of a surprise at this point that, left to our own devices (and the open-endedness of a month without a theme), things tend to take a turn towards the darkness on the Collab. B-horror is our origin story, after all.

This week’s pick, not necessarily classified as a horror film, certainly borrows a feeling of dread from the genre that accompanies the slow realization that all is not well. And, no surprises here, one of the most terrifying places on film is our setting: a seemingly peaceful and quaint US suburb.

The Film:

Greener Grass

Directors:

Jocelyn DeBoer & Dawn Luebbe

The Premise:

A suburban mother in a surreal town begins to feel overwhelmed by the pressure to be perfect…a fact that her closest friend is prepared to use to her advantage.

The Ramble:

A children’s game of soccer in a suburban neighborhood park is not the most thrilling time for anyone involved, but opting out seems impossible. For long-term frenemies Jill and Lisa, the game represents an opportunity to show off their parenting skills and catch up on the most shocking gossip. The latest scandal to rock the town is the murder of a young yoga instructor, though the majority of locals are most concerned with whether or not the suspect bagged their groceries.

A group of parents sitting on and standing around bleachers in a park smile in seemingly perfect harmony.

As Lisa envies her friend’s seemingly perfect life and crushes on her husband Nick, even the queen bee has worries. Jill is secretly frustrated with her son Julian, who she frequently brags about. People pleasing to a fault, Jill is constantly smiling and trying to live up to absolutely everyone’s expectations, clearly an impossibility. Behind her braces-lined smile (which, btw, all the adults in this town wear), Jill is crumbling beneath the pressure of being a flawless Stepford-style wife and mother.

Impulsively, Jill gives her baby Madison to Lisa to raise as her own, and things just get stranger from here. Jill and Nick’s awkward child Julian transforms into a golden retriever after falling into the pool during Nick’s 40th birthday party. Nick, already obsessed with the pool water’s taste, becomes increasingly fixated on drinking only water that has come from the family pool.

A man and woman sit at a breakfast table full of food, a dog in the middle chair between them, eating food from the table.

Meanwhile, Lisa and her husband Dennis contend with the increasingly bad behavior of their son Bob, and welcome an unexpectedly odd new baby into their home. As Julian is no longer enrolled in an accelerated math program or allowed to participate in soccer (no Air Bud rules here), Jill feels like a failure as a parent, particularly as she has no human children left.

Two heterosexual married couples sit around a restaurant table, dressed in matching colors, respectively.

As all of these events unfold, Jill unknowingly has a stalker who periodically drives by in a golf cart (like the braces thing, all of the adults drive golf carts). What does it all mean? If anything, that is.

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

The vast majority of the time, all that I ask of a film is that it be weird. This one certainly fits the bill, and it makes quirky observations & social commentary while doing this. Based on the limited amount I knew about this film, it seemed inevitable that I would either love or hate it.

While this is usually described as a dark comedy, its interest in portraying the suburban dream transformed into an unending nightmare aligns this one quite closely with horror. There is always something slightly jarring about the smiles, bright colors, and non-sequitur dialogue that Jill tries to make sense of and belong in. Friendship, marriage, parenthood, divorce–all of these prove to be empty social signifiers above anything else.

No one is particularly likeable, and almost all of the characters are so self-absorbed that they don’t even know what’s going on around them, unless it can be used to their advantage. The humor is pitch-black, and I legitimately laughed at some of the shows within shows the characters watched–shows like a reality baking competition where contestants are judged on others’ bakes or a taboo children’s show called Kids with Knives. Nick’s obsession with pool water is so odd but is never not funny to me, and the scenes he shares with Julian (both in dog and child form) are silly but sharp.

This doesn’t even touch the storyline of Lisa’s new baby being an actual soccer ball, or the children’s teacher (D’Arcy Carden!)’s repeated references to her mother’s murder of the other members of her immediate family.

I will say the film does lack cohesion in some regards, but this didn’t impact my enjoyment. What’s more, some of the approaches that come across as pretentious hipster bullshit in other contexts work quite well here.

Coincidentally, this is the 2nd social satire of the Collab featuring a human to dog transformation (though not quite as literally with Bitch). I’d watch more in this subgenre, honestly.

Would my blog wife love this one like her own child dog or flunk it out of accelerated math? Find out in her review!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Bitch, or: Who Let the Dogs Out?

#feminism. Like all things trendy, sometimes the tag truly reflects a message of female empowerment, and other times it misses the mark entirely. This week’s film–written, directed by, and starring Marianna Palka–addresses feminist themes, but is it feminist? The answer is a resounding “sort of.”

TW: suicide attempt

The Film:

Bitch

The Premise:

After being pushed too far, a depressed wife and mother finally snaps, adopting the behavior and mannerisms of a female dog.

The Ramble:

With her artistic ambitions crushed by the burden of caring for her children as her useless husband spends nights with his secretary, Jill’s future looks pretty bleak. So bleak, in fact, that she attempts to hang herself from a chandelier in the family’s suburban home.

Haunted by an ever-present neighborhood dog, overwhelmed with running around for the children, and failing to get any support beyond throwing pills at the problem, Jill mentally calls it quits. After initially ceasing to respond to her children at all, it later becomes clear that Jill isn’t exactly herself. She is, in fact, now behaving like a dog, barking and walking around on all fours included.

A woman with an extremely dirty face looks over her shoulder, baring her teeth threateningly.

Husband Bill is not so much concerned as highly annoyed with Jill’s selfishness. Not only is he now responsible for figuring out the kids’ needs and routines, but he also needs to keep things afloat at work amid massive layoffs. In need of back up, Bill reaches out to Jill’s sister Beth. However, even with the support of Beth and a number of mental health specialists, Jill remains a snarling mass growling around in the basement.

A group of four children sit in the hallway of their home. An older boy sits by himself, while an older girl covers the ears of her younger brother, who in turn covers his younger sister's ears.

After a rather dysfunctional Christmas with unhappy children and a welfare check from the police, Bill breaks down and momentarily splits. When he comes back home, Bill seems to understand the blame that was constantly hurled at Jill when she didn’t keep everything at home running smoothly…only to reveal how clueless he is when he blames all of his problems on his much too enormous penis.

Things go from bad to worse when Bill loses his job, Jill escapes, and he is caught (admittedly breaking up) with his mistress. It takes losing Jill to the care of her family to make Bill regret the way he treated her before. But that doesn’t make life suddenly a walk in the dog park. Is it too late to save their marriage or even bring Jill back to her usual self?

The Rating:

2.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I credit this film for its ambition. The incredibly dark comedy premise here is brilliant as it approaches the concept of a woman perceived as a bitch on a literal level. I appreciate the satire here as a woman who has repeatedly heard that she can and should have it all is pushed to the breaking point–and considered selfish when experiencing mental illness.

However, there are a lot of moments that fall short of this film’s promise. Jill’s mental illness is initially treated as something inconvenient or in need of a quick fix, though the members of her family eventually accept the new version of Jill. This doesn’t quite work for me as Jill clearly is very ill and not in control of her actions. There’s a sort of odd fairy tale quality to the logic of the story in which Bill’s revelation that he’s been fucking up this entire time is needed to restore Jill’s sanity, and that’s…problematic, to say the least.

I think this gets to the film’s biggest issue: despite playing the titular bitch and serving as the catalyst setting up the rest of the film, Jill isn’t really the focus here. Rather, it is Bill who must unlearn his toxic habits. And while he does need to suffer here to appreciate the worth of Jill’s labor and love, it feels unintentionally bleak that this is the only way for him to learn. Additionally, the idea that the power rests with Bill to change their relationship for the better undermines the entire point of this film.

It’s also difficult that one of Bill’s big moments to show his growth as a character happens when he acts like a dog in a dog park. This scene is stuck somewhere between funny and uplifting, and just ends up feeling uncanny. There’s something profoundly sad about a man barking around on all fours in public, even if he is putting on this performance as encouragement for his wife.

This may say more about me as a person than the nature of this film, but I could’ve happily seen Bill end up with a much darker fate. It would be such a shame if he could no longer blame that big dick for all of his problems.

Would my blog wife take this film for its daily walk or snarl at it from a dimly lit basement? Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Little Boxes, or: I Lived Ironically in the Suburbs Before It Was Cool

May has been rechristened Melanie Lynskey Month.  After unintentionally watching I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore (IDFAHITWA) during the same weekend, my blog partner-in-crime and I are obsessed.  I dare you not to feel deep love and admiration after witnessing the beauty of Ms. Lynskey having an existential meltdown in front of children, aggressively destroying lawn art, and dreaming of a world where people stop acting like assholes.

Our first feature this month is Christa’s pick in which no wicker lawn animals were harmed.

The Film:

Little Boxes

Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Uncondensed Version:

Our girl Melanie plays the role of Gina, hipster Brooklyn photographer who moves to the suburbs of Washington state with her hipster Brooklyn husband and son.  Though she has just accepted a tenure-track position in a college art department and the family is looking forward to more stability, they are nevertheless sad to leave behind their friends and the cool artsy vibe.

To their amazement, the same amount of money that carved out a small Brooklyn apartment gives the family a much bigger 2-story house in the suburbs.  However, they are in for some culture shocks as suburban living means navigating some oddly specific rules like children always calling adults Mr. or Mrs. (which really isn’t that odd to me, and if I ran into any of my primary school teachers, I would cringe if they insisted I call them by their first name).

All 3 members of the family have their own obstacles to tackle.  Gina’s husband Mack is a writer who is procrastinating on his latest book by writing food magazine articles.  He finds himself becoming a something of a local celebrity for being a published author with an agent and, more sinisterly, being commodified as quite possibly the only black person in town.

A man cooks on a hot plate in a mostly empty kitchen.
Fellow stress baker in action.

Gina is adjusting to typical academic BS, finding the tenured faculty monopolizing her time both on- and off-campus.  Janeane Garofalo is weirdly one of the tenured ladies, and encourages Gina to go out drinking with her tenure committee, then shames her when she gets drunk.  Sounds about right for tenured faculty.

A woman passes her cell phone to another woman, giving her a sly grin.
It’s not a dick pic, promise.

Meanwhile, their son Clark is dealing with sudden attention from 2 girls in town who want to talk about rap and show off their dance moves for him.  One of the girls, Ambrosia, takes an interest in Clark in a really uncomfortable way that fetishizes him.  Shit hits the fan when Ambrosia’s mother catches them in a compromising position, causing Clark to lash out and make a decision he regrets.

A mixed-race boy with an afro sits next to a blonde white girl. He is wearing a striped shirt.
Spoiler:  it does not involve mixing a horizontally striped shirt with vertical stripes.

Dripping with symbolism, all of the family’s personal belongings have been delayed, and Mack has discovered mold in the house that desperately needs to be removed.

With the family in chaos, perhaps the decision to move to the suburbs was a big mistake after all.

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

I’m super tired, which is one of several reasons I failed to empathize with most of the characters in this film except for Clark’s cousin, who comes to visit near the end.  He’s the main source of comic relief, offering sage advice beyond his years to the entire family.  However, it’s too little too late, and it doesn’t help that I didn’t particularly care about the family.  We were never off to a good start as it really rubbed me the wrong way when all the members of the family were marveling about how beautiful and spacious their new house was…possibly because I’m eternally bitter about my lack of financial freedom.  IDK, Mack and Gina felt way too bland to be these cool trendy artists.

It would have been cool to see more of the “before” picture of the family’s life in Brooklyn rather than hear Gina wax poetic about what a beautiful haven for amazingly talented artists and intellectuals it is.  FFS, we get it—hipsters fucking love Brooklyn.

Most of the secondary characters didn’t come off much better.  I really hated Ambrosia, and it took Clark a damn long time to realize she may not be an overly nice person.  Christine Taylor and Janeane Garofalo were so underutilized and had maybe 5 minutes tops on screen.

I think my problem here was that I wanted this to be either funnier or more dramatic.  It failed to make me laugh or produce any genuine feeling in me…except, you know, ironically.  Like a Brooklyn hipster.

Did Christa like this one before it was cool?  Read her review here to find out!