Disaster in ’50s Dreamland

Suburbicon is Suburbibad

George Clooney is a prolific actor and a respected director, who, since his first film behind the camera in 2002, the well-received Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, has directed exactly one film every three years. Clooney is assuredly quite selective with his projects, which makes his newest release, Suburbicon, a film about a picture-perfect white American suburb, his most puzzling project yet.

The cliches begin early in Suburbicon, with a fairy tale leatherbound book opening as a narrator introduces us to the local town of Suburbicon in 1950s America, where everyone knows everyone, nothing goes wrong, and everyone works a nine-to-five job happily in a stable economy. Oh, and the town is all white.

In this model town reside the Lodges. Matt Damon plays Gardner, who works at an unspecified office during the day and lives at home with his wife, Rose (Julianne Moore), and his son, Nicky (Noah Jupe). They live in a square house with a square lawn like everyone else, copied and pasted in the editing room—the model family of a model town. They are the family you see in brochures, the grinning faces you see plastered on the sides of ice cream trucks. Suburbicon is a beautiful, carefree town with beautiful, carefree people.

The residents’ lives and well-beings are turned upside down, however, when the Mayers, a black family of three, move into one of the homes. Smiles quickly fade, and voices hush among the townies. As picket fences are constructed around their lawns and the racist citizens turn into mobs, the Mayers stand their ground and defend their right to live wherever they please.

The narrative quickly switches from a racism plotline back to the Lodge family when two men from the mob invade their home. These strangers not only rob Gardner but commit murder as well, leaving the rest of the home’s occupants in a state of shock and mourning. And then, the rest gets messy, boring viewers with far-reaching schemes and unjustified actions.

The film is a parody of itself, and by the time Oscar Isaac enters as a caricature of a wacky insurance agent, the film is all but unsalvageable, leaving the audience unsure how to react. The scenes with Isaac are refreshing, as Isaac fully commits to being the Coen’s original quirky character. With his high-pitched voice and good-cop, bad-cop routine while investigating some insurance claims, Isaac shows us a glimpse into the film’s potential. But alas, we are continually disappointed with every twist.  

Written by Clooney with Grant Heslov and the Coen brothers, Suburbicon features filmmaking styles that clearly clash, oozing an awkward blend of Clooney’s well-meaning, fun nature and the Coen brothers’ offbeat, violent humor. Not only is the pacing of the film off, but the scenes themselves struggle with what style they want. Whether interrogation scenes are meant to be funny or serious is unclear, and they fail to bring the characters to life the way Isaac does. The dialogue is too slow to be funny, and the music is too overdramatic for the visuals, which include visual comedy that hits more, if at all, in the trailer than in the movie.

Suburbicon’s character development, like Suburbicon itself, is surface level and essentially nonexistent. No character is given a backstory, and even Matt Damon can’t play a convincing lead. No character’s motivations are justified, and for a film that’s focused so much on racism, it would have been nice to see the Mayers, whose mere presence causes a main conflict in the story, get more than 10 lines. Instead, the Mayers are subjected to cheap and lazy racist encounters—ones we’ve seen or heard countless times in film, but with nothing original added. The Mayers’ storyline also takes on a completely separate arc than that of the Lodge family, making the Mayers seem almost like an afterthought that adds not-so-subtle race commentary to an uninspired crime flick.

The suburb itself is intriguing but never returned to, despite its potential to be a creative component in an otherwise confusing, unemotional story. There are, however, some nice elements. The production design is strong, and some shots look nice, particularly in Clooney’s office. But other than that, Suburbicon feels unfinished—the Coen brothers originally wrote the plotline in the ’80s—and like a project that was revived just because Clooney felt like reviving it. Unfortunately, Clooney’s influence on the film does not seem to benefit it, and we’re better off forgetting these towns exist.

 

Release | 27 October, 2017 (US)

Genre | Crime, Drama, Mystery

Director | George Clooney

Writers | Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, George Clooney, Grant Heslov

Main Cast | Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Oscar Isaac, Noah Jupe

Rating / Runtime | R / 1h 44m

Personal Rating | 4.0/10