Greener Grass (2019)

Did you find yourself disappointed that Too Many Cooks wasn’t an hour longer? Have you ever started an online petition to greenlight a gender-flipped remake of Tim & Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie? Ever have a nightmare that David Lynch rebooted Stepford Wives as an Adult Swim sitcom? The precise target audience for Greener Grass is such an unlikely combination of interests & tolerances that it’s an unholy miracle the movie was ever made in the first place, much less screened at competitive film festivals like Sundance & The Overlook. It’s not enough that its audience has to be thirsty for a femme, Lynchian subversion of Adult Swim-flavored anti-comedy; they have to sustain that thirst for 100 unrelenting minutes as they’re flooded with enough illogical chaos & menacing irreverence to last 100 lifetimes. It’s an exhausting experience no matter who you are, but there are apparently enough weirdos out there who find this peculiar brand of comedic antagonism pleasurable enough to fight through the delirium. I’m afraid I’m one of them.

At its core, Greener Grass is a comedy of manners. First-time directors Jocelyn DeBoer & Dawn Leubbe costar as suburban housewives in the same cookie-cutter, fly-over America we’re used to seeing in films like Blue Velvet & Edward Scissorhands. The film is so blatant in its adoption of the Sinister Evil Lurking Under Suburbia’s Manicured Surface trope that it practically functions as a parody of the genre. There’s a framework for a serial killer plot in which a crazed grocery bagger stalks local women and usurps their lives & homes, but it’s mostly treated as an afterthought, some light background decoration. Instead, the film generates most of its horror by mocking middle class suburbanites as subhuman monstrosities. Sharing a communal vanity that drives every single adult to get braces, they make out in wet, sexless slurps that torment the audience in unholy foley work. Proud of the size & cleanliness of their in-ground swimming pools to the point of mania, they bottle the pool water for drinking on the go. Traveling around from beige McMansion to beige McMansion in electric golf carts, they callously trade husbands & children as bargaining chips in a never-ending game of one-upmanship. Each awkward social interaction is scored with creepy music cues as the humiliation from not keeping up with the Jones drives them each dangerously mad. It’s a total horror show, in that it’s totally banal.

DeBoer & Leubbe are joined by fellow LA comedy scenesters like Mary Holland, D’arcy Carden, Beck Bennet, and Janizca Bravo as they mercilessly mock the status-obsessed suburban monsters of Everywhere, America. It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact target audience for this femme, improv-heavy anti-humor, outside the comedy nerds who turn up for UCB shows in NYC & LA. It was certainly surprising to see the film appear on the schedule for the Overlook Film Festival in New Orleans, which tends to cater to more immediately familiar horror tones than what the grocery-bagger killer side-plot has to offer here. I will admit it, though: the film is horrifying. Whether it’s grossing you out with the moist, passionless sex of its suburbanite goons or it’s breaking every known rule of logical storytelling to drive you into total delirium at a golf cart’s pace, the film is uniquely horrific & punishing – and hilarious. You should know approximately thirty seconds into its runtime whether or not its peculiarly antagonistic humor is something you’ll vibe with; there’s just very little that can prepare you for what it’s like to experience that aggressive irreverence for 100 consecutive minutes.

-Brandon Ledet

The Greasy Strangler (2016)

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fourstar

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How do you feel about anti-comedy? Do properties like Comedy Bang Bang or The Eric Andre Show or Xavier: Renegade Angel annoy or delight you? Your answer to that question is largely going to determine your reaction to the anti-humor horrors of The Greasy Strangler, which essentially applies the ethos of Tim & Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie to a creature feature format. Within seconds the antagonistic humor of this dirt cheap indie horror establishes itself as the definition of not-for-everyone, but it shouldn’t feel too out of step for folks who’ve spent enough time following Adult Swim’s ever-evolving line-up over the years. Personally, I found The Greasy Strangler to be an amusingly perverse provocation, one that works fairly well as a deconstruction of the Sundance-minded indie romance. I wouldn’t fault anyone who disliked the film for being cruel, grotesque, or aggressively stupid. Those claims would all certainly be valid. As a nasty slasher by way of Eric Warheim, however, that’s just a natural part of a very unnatural territory.

This is not a murder mystery. In the very first scene a father confesses to his live-at-home son that he is, in fact, The Greasy Strangler. This is a man who eats & drinks copious amounts of grease with every meal. He dips his hotdogs in tubs of grease. He asks questions like, “Why not put a little grease in your java?” At any inquiry of his grease fetish he retorts incredulously, “You probably think I’m The Greasy Strangler, don’t you?” in a tone that’s effectively a de facto confession. His son, who looks like a strange, sad hybrid between Jeffrey Tambor & Dawn Weiner, spends a lot of time around his greasy, murderous pop. He prepares most of his meals, lounges nude around the home with him, and assists in his (fraudulent) disco tour business, but doesn’t suspect at all that his father might be the local grease-covered serial murderer until deep in the third act. Such is the deliberate stupidity of this film.

As a creature feature, The Greasy Strangler undeniably delivers the goods. Although a decidedly camp-minded comedy, it boasts a truly hideous, horrifying monster that’s sickening to behold. What I find much more unique, however, is the way the film satirizes and sets aflame the modern indie romance genre. The color palette & social awkwardness of titles like Juno or Napoleon Dynamite or whatever their post-aughts equivalent would be is meticulously recreated here, but put to a grotesque effect. This is quirk employed for pure evil. Seemingly the only woman in this pastel horror show universe somehow enters a love triangle with The Greasy Strangler & his sad sack progeny. The world’s most upsetting prosthetic genitals continually bump ugly in what would usually play as a “star-crossed lovers find love in a world where they don’t belong” plot. The romance of The Greasy Strangler is just as upsetting & difficult to watch as its monstrous kills. The film pretends to strive for meticulous twee preciousness, but it doesn’t take long for its corny façade to crumble and the film becomes queasy in an entirely different, much more upsetting way.

Like with most (if not all) comedies, your tolerance & appreciation of The Greasy Strangler will depend greatly on your sense of humor. This usually goes doubly true in the case of anti-comedy, which is aggressively antagonistic in its reliance on repetition & inanity to the point where being annoyed is supposed to be part of the appeal. This film is built with several ready-to-go drinking game options, considering the ungodly number of times it forces you to watch the titular killer run his naked body through an automated car wash and the even more numerous, Gertrude Stein-esque utterances of phrases like “bullshit artist.” As someone who enthusiastically enjoyed the film, but expects plenty of dissent on that reaction, I have to offer the laziest critical advice imaginable: watch a trailer first. The Greasy Strangler’s advertising has been exceptionally blunt & honest about the film it’s selling and I feel like a two minute clip is more than enough to determine if this will be worth your time. I got everything I wanted out of it as a Tim & Eric-style slasher with a satirical edge in its approach to romantic indie quirk. That’s not going to ring true for everyone, but comedy is one of the most divisive genres around, so that’s to be expected.

-Brandon Ledet

Entertainment (2015)

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threehalfstar

Neil Hamburger’s comedy isn’t for everyone. Actually, that’s putting it too lightly. Neil Hamburger’s comedy is atrocious, just godawful, completely useless. Anti-comedy is a difficult trick to pull off. When it works, it’s a brilliant form of audience antagonism à la Andy Kaufman & his ilk (I defy anyone to watch Hamburger’s tirade against the Red Hot Chili Peppers without laughing at least once) but when it fails that antagonism feels like an empty exercise. Who could find a capable comedian intentionally telling shitty, unfunny jokes worthwhile if that’s the only thing they ever do? How is that entertainment? Neil Hamburger (aka Gregg Turkington) asks that question of himself in the pitch black comedy-drama Entertainment.

Entertainment follows a fictionalized version of Hamburger (billed here simply as “The Comedian”) on a stand-up comedy tour through the desolate American West. His opening act is an old-timey clown/mime (played by the immensely talented youngster Tye Sheridan). His venues are a depressing parade of prison cafeterias, hotel conference rooms, and dive bar stages. Bombing is essential to his act, which is true of the real-life Hamburger as well, but the movie takes it to a whole new low. Actual jokes from Hamburger’s routine are repeated verbatim in Entertainment, but any semblance of humor that can be found from in his work has been removed wholesale. All that is left is the antagonism. As “The Comedian” cracks monstrous jokes about rape, makes fart noises, and repeatedly pleads “Why? Why? Why?” in a piercing, nasal whine it makes all too much sense why no one in the audience is laughing. When he becomes savagely combative with them for not rewarding his efforts, you have absolutely no sympathy.

Just as director Rick Alverson disassembled Tim Heidecker’s brand of hipster anti-humor in The Comedy to make it into something unforgivably ugly & self-absorbed, he more or less repeats the trick for Neil Hamburger’s shtick here. Entertainment is about depression, addiction, and the uselessness of pursuing art for the sake of pursuing art, but it paints such an ugly portrait of the artist in question that there’s no sympathy to go around for his existential crisis (and intentionally so). You’re prompted to think “You should be depressed. Maybe you should quit comedy. Maybe life itself isn’t worth the effort for you.” There’s an excess of eerie imagery & spacial pacing in Entertainment that reaches for a Lynchian aesthetic I’m not sure that Alverson fully commands, so overall The Comedy endures as a much more confident, successful example of the anti-comedy-is-useless-cruelty genre the director is carving out for himself. Still, Entertainment stands as a brave act of self-reflection for Hamburger/Turkington & a pitch black drama/dark comedy for the art house crowd at large.

-Brandon Ledet