Review: Suburbicon

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Director: George Clooney

Writer: George Clooney, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, Grant Heslov

Starring: Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Noah Jupe, Oscar Isaac

Genre: Crime, Comedy

Rating: R

 

 

 

Stories that I generally love: Ones about fundamentally good and honest people doing what they can to operate in a dark, ugly, and broken world.

Stories that I generally hate: Ones about fundamentally corrupt and disgraceful people defiling an intentionally good and ostensibly idyllic world.

Movies that I generally love: Ones written by the Coen brothers.

Movies that I generally hate: Ones directed by George Clooney.

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: Many characters die. Big blood stains, bleeding wounds. Stabbing, punching, fighting, choking, car crashes, explosions, poisoning, hitting with a fire poker. Gunshots. A child is in danger in several scenes, screaming and terrified. Characters are strangled. Bad guys knock out women and children with chloroformed handkerchiefs. A car is set on fire, a house vandalized. A character in a coma. Violent dialogue.

Language/Crude Humor: Regular-but-not-constant use of profanities and obscenities. Racial slurs a few times.

Sexual Content: A child catches adults in a sexual situation. Couple portrayed as comfortable in bed together.

Drug/Alcohol Use: Social/background drinking among adults.

Spiritual Content: Talk of conflicting Christian denominations lingers in the margins.

Other Negative Themes: Corruption abounds with no contrasting relief in sight.

Positive Content: Part of the movie sheds light (very bluntly) on the sheer ugliness of racism, tribalism, and the mob mentality.

Left to right: Julianne Moore as Margaret and Matt Damon as Gardner in Suburbicon, from Paramount Pictures and Black Bear Pictures.

Review

Riddle me this:

When is a movie trying to do too much and yet does too little?

I remember with self-deprecating shame some of my earliest narrative ventures in which my mind would run amok with wild aspirations and towering world-building promises. The actual results were meager at best, with little in the way of a clear singular vision–not to mention the horribly sloppy technical execution. Yes, it was not a pretty sight, but I shouldn’t be too harsh on myself. I was only twelve if I remember correctly and very early in my own career as a storyteller. Having too many ideas and no idea what to do with them is to be expected.

Such allowances are not afforded to the likes of names with such season and pedigree in the world of cinema like George Clooney, Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Oscar Isaac, or Ethan and Joel Coen. These are names that have rightly been associated with the very best of the Oscar season market; names that belong to people who should know better than this. Granted, Clooney’s entire directorial filmography is nothing if not empirical proof that he is far better in front of the camera than he is behind it, but even that should be no excuse for the horrendously incoherent farce that is Suburbicon.

What exactly does this movie want to be? A dark comedy? A crime drama? A piece of social satire on the racial upheaval of pre-Civil Rights America? It is possible for a genuinely great movie to be all of those things at once, but this isn’t how it’s done. Taking place in the idyllic eponymous white-bread-picket-fence town that clearly drew a great deal of infrastructural guidance from Levittown, NY, Suburbicon tells us two equally unfurnished tales that have almost nothing in the way of functional interaction. One wonders what they’re even doing in the same movie.

The thread that gets the brunt of the screentime tells us of the Lodge family, consisting of dad Gardner (Damon), mom Rose (Moore), Rose’s twin sister Margaret (also Moore), and young boy Nicky (Noah Jupe). One night, the family’s home is invaded by two burglars (Glenn Fleshler and Alex Hassell) who carry out the crime of binding the whole family and killing Rose with a chloroform overdose in a way that appears to be more oddly calculated than simply wicked. What spins out from that misfortune could have made for a fine plot if not for it being mired in external hindrances.

The other plot festering on the sides of this film like a malignant tumor introduces us to the Meyers. By virtue of their behavior and demeanor, they make fine additions to the pastoral tranquility of the community that is Suburbicon. There’s only one issue: they’re black.  For this sacred ground of white supremacy, this is the worst form of defilement and cannot go on unchallenged. The public’s response is to first stage an act of communal heckling outside the Meyers’ home, which gradually escalates into a full-scale riot–one that keeps the police too preoccupied to deal effectively with the criminal activity occurring at the Lodge’s. That’s about as close as the film gets to functionally unite its two broken and half-hearted plots, and it still doesn’t work out.

It is rather sad that on a structural level, the Lodge’s tale is the more interesting of the two because everyone on that side of the plot is horrendously unlikeable save for Nicky. In fact, the whole affair reminds me of many a popular family movie from the early-to-mid-90s which starred charming and charismatic moppets making their way around foolish and self-absorbed adult authority figures through a comical display of outwitting and pure serendipity. The key difference here is that the youngsters in the Home Alone movies could stand their ground against their adult antagonists with little fear for their life. Such is not the case in the idyllic world of Suburbicon.

Not to spoil anything, but what plays out for the Lodge family left a pit in my stomach for all involved, but especially Nicky. This kid must be traumatized for life.  I see no good reason to think he would not grow up to be an insidious continuation of his parent’s sociopathy, but instead of exploring such a compelling fallout from this cavalcade of dystopic carnality, we end with a largely undeserved game of catch operating as a band-aid over a pothole. Granted, the racially charged harassment that the Meyers face is also rightly unsettling, but what’s the point there? That there was violent racism in the 50s? What else is new?

There is a point halfway through in which the ever winsome Oscar Isaac gives the best performance in the film for what little time he’s there. Make no mistake, dear reader: even Isaac can’t make this film worth the price of admission. This may very well be the most disappointing movie of 2017.

Positives

Negatives

The Bottom Line

 

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Tyrone Barnes

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