Ah, the 1950s, an idealistic time in American history. Or at least, that’s what the majority of media, sanitized history textbooks and some our grandparents would lead us to believe. Alas, that decade just like every other one that has come and gone, had its issues. It wasn’t all sock-hops, Technicolor and Jalopy racing before going to inspiration point with your date. The new film, Suburbicon, directed and co-written by George Clooney (The Monuments Men, Money Monster) and based on a script initially written by his frequent collaborators Joel and Ethan Coen (Hail, Caesar), attempts to tackle such a fact.
It’s 1959, and everything is hunky dory in the neighborhood of Suburbicon. Every resident of the peaceful suburb is happy, white, and seemingly oblivious to anything outside their neighborly oasis. One of the families residing here are The Lodges. Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) is a successful financial executive living an ideal family life. He takes refuge and pride in his lovely abode; living there with his wheelchair confined wife, Rose, their young son Nicky (Noah Jupe) and his sister-in-law, Margaret (both of the sisters are played in dual roles by Julianne Moore). Alas, the ideal, white-washed neighborhood is soon turned upside down when an African-American family moves in next to The Lodges.
The entire community is shocked and appalled by this development. So much so that the majority of the residents begin to make plans to get rid of their new neighbors. However, the Lodge family are not concerned with this, as they have much bigger fish to fry. One night, the Lodges become victims of a violent home invasion; perpetrated by men who live outside of the safety and serenity of Suburbicon. After this, the family’s life gets turned upside down while their neighborhood whips itself into a frenzy.
You may recall when they first started advertising this film. Seemingly, Suburbicon is an easy sell, touting names such as Damon, Clooney, Moore and the Coen brothers. However, upon the movie’s release, no one showed up; thus the film is bombing. I suspect there are two reasons for this. Firstly, we are not living in a peaceful climate at the moment. The last thing we need is a reminder of how bad racial tension and inequality was in the 50s when we still have those terrible issues today. America itself is currently divided, not just the different races that make up the melting pot. Perhaps people want to ignore this. Hopefully, though, they are instead making efforts to rectify those issues, not look back on them for insightful comedic commentary. Moreover, though, this film was ravaged by the majority of the critics. Having read none of these reviews in an effort to go in clean, I remember thinking, “How bad could it be, particularly with all the talent involved?”
Well…it’s that bad, as I have to say I hated Suburbicon as much as the majority of the critics. But, before I explain why, I will cite this positive attribute. This flick is competently directed by Clooney, but it’s nothing spectacular. He does his best to channel the Coens but doesn’t quite hit the mark. Also, the actors do fine jobs. Unfortunately though, except for Nicky, all of the characters are highly unlikeable. On the upside, Suburbicon does have beautiful production design. Thus, allowing the viewer to look at the sets when the deplorable characters become too grating.
The Coen Brothers are among my favorite writers/directors. I’ve seen all their films, most of them multiple times, and the majority of their oeuvre ranges from decent to fantastic. However, they have had a few duds. Over the course of their career, the brothers have only written three scripts they did not direct. The first of these titles was Crimewave (1985), which was directed by Sam Raimi (Spider-Man). (But I have no opinion on it as I have not seen it.) Then there was Gambit (2013), which was quite terrible.
Finally, there’s the film in question, Suburbicon, which from what I understand, the Coens never finished their draft of. Sometimes that happens, a screenplay just isn’t working, so it gets abandoned. Much of the time, the screenplays are returned to years later, after the writer(s) figure them out. However, some are just left behind with good reason. I believe Suburbicon would have been in the latter category had Clooney and his producing and writing partner, Grant Heslov not picked it up and done a rewrite. Not that any additional writing would have helped. Perhaps if the Coen Brothers decide not to direct a script they wrote, no one else should either.
The main reasons this film doesn’t work are quite simple. As I mentioned, the majority of the characters in this story are hard to care about except for the kid. Nor are they even the least bit interesting. Things become harder to watch once you realize these stale characters are involved in the type of mystery you’ve seen a million times over. These elements result in a picture that is nothing but a stale stew, sitting on a low-burner. However, there is an attempt to spice things up by adding social commentary. A commentary that tells us that racism is terrible and 50s suburbia had a seedy underbelly. Everything the film tries to say, in that regard, what has been said already.
Frankly, David Lynch did all this better in 1986 with Blue Velvet. Worst all, this movie is supposedly a dark comedy. Yet, Suburbicon is not all that dark in comparison to similar stories, and it isn’t the least bit funny. Not even in that, “It’s so odd, it’s funny,” way. I have to be honest; I had trouble staying awake during this film. So, even if you are a fan of those involved, as I am, don’t see Suburbicon. It is a major disappointment and one of the worst films of the year. See it if you like, but I assure you, you will not get that time back.
Suburbicon is NOW PLAYING in theaters.