- Product Rating -

Suburbicon

| November 7, 2017

Having just seen The Snowman a mere 10 days ago, I’ve been thinking about how some movies can be so slapped together. It’s a perversely fascinating subject of sorts in my eyes, especially when the talent involved in such films are of ostensibly high caliber, but the same all-to-easy answer always comes to the forefront: a messed up production cycle. When Suburbicon was dumped into theaters a week ago following a nearly non-existence presence at the Venice Film Festival less than two months beforehand, its existence was a non-issue in and of itself.

A wacky comedy that was written by one duo and then heavily revised by another duo likely won’t make that big of a splash, and such a non-issue existence is pretty fitting to Suburbicon as a movie as well. It’s a nothing of a movie despite how much it has going on, a dated, tone-deaf, and incredibly messy story that’s executed in broad strokes with no flair at all.

In what was originally a script by the Coen brothers in 1986 and then heavily rewritten by director/producer George Clooney and producer Grant Heslov, Suburbicon tells the story of Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon), husband to Rose (Julianne Moore) and father to Nicky (Noah Jupe) in an idyllic 1959 suburban community. The community just so happens to be called Suburbicon—why else would the movie be called that—and it’s rocked when the Meyers—a black family—moves in next door the the family. The Lodges then immediately fall victim to an out-of-nowhere home invasion, after which Rose dies, leading her sister Margaret (also Julianne Moore) to come to stay with them. As law enforcement tries to catch the criminals, supposedly silly hijinks ensue, but none of them make any sense or are even entertaining to watch unfold.

There are two main plots here: one about the Meyers and the racism that their new neighbors subject them to; and one regarding the Lodges dealing with the aftermath of a home invasion. These plots and their respective themes are almost completely divorced from each other. All of the surface-level satire on racism feels like an afterthought, and that’s because it is; the script apparently had no such material in its earlier iterations. It’s difficult to do so much as write about Suburbicon given how flat all of its characters are, their behavior coming off as unfounded and their voices stemming from passé stereotypes that have been wrung out of any substance for the past several decades.

The film may or may not have the intention of being an ensemble piece, but that doesn’t come across because everything is so messy to begin with. Either way, Gardner is a torturously bland protagonist and Damon’s performance does nothing to elevate the material. His white dress shirt makes him look like a blank piece of printer paper, and honestly, the movie could have just had a giant piece of paper be the protagonist and the movie would have as much substance.

The situations wherein these characters lay are so obvious and Clooney’s direction is so broad that the material comes off as mean-spirited at times and against what the intentions of the filmmakers likely were. The editing precludes any comedic timing and the constantly buoyant tone that Clooney goes for clashes with the inherently dark content of the script; it’s like a surgeon taking a sledgehammer to an open-heart operation. The score by Alexandre Desplat is also damning, being relentless in the worst possible way and suffocating the dialogue and beats in virtually every scene. All of this contributes to the film’s handling of racism being the most obnoxious, the joke being on those suffering from constant oppression instead of the idiocy of their oppressors. However, that assumes that there are any real jokes at all, and I don’t know that there are.

I didn’t laugh once throughout the entirety of Suburbicon, and when I wasn’t fighting the urge to pass out from disinterest, I was too busy wondering how the people involved could create such a train wreck. It fails entirely in regards to what it aims for, and it also lacks any sort of ironic value. The movie is just sort of… there… while not once being fully present in regards to character, tone, plot, comedy, drama, or satire.

The people that I’m guessing are the target audience already know that suburban life thought to be a utopia can be a cesspool of immorality and social injustice, so why waste your breath saying that? Furthermore, why paint it all as silly and outlandish when what’s onscreen is more or less happening right now in the real world? Suburbicon doesn’t go nearly far enough but has the distaste of something that goes too far. It’s not satire. It’s just sad and tired.

About the Author:

Senior year film student at Columbia College Chicago, Hollywood Film Festival pre-screener, and Best Social Media Presence for North Farmington High School's 2014 senior mock elections. Firmly believes that ".gif" is pronounced "jiff".
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