Suburbicon Director: George Clooney Screenwriter: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, George Clooney, Grant Heslov Cast: Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Oscar Isaac, Noah Jupe, Leith M. Burke, Karimah Westbrook Distributor: Paramount Studios Rated R | 105 Release Date: October 27, 2017
On the surface, Suburbicon is supposed to be this social satire set in the heart of late 1950s suburbia, where the little quiet idyllic neighborhood is the epitome of the American Dream. Even in the film’s opening, we see a sales pitch that tries to convince the audience that Surburicon is the place to live with its family-friendliness, perfect homes, and genuinely idyllic atmosphere. At this point, the film turns itself into a satiric commentary on race relations. From there it morphs into a murder-mystery comedy. And neither of these plots has anything to do with each other. So rather than working together cohesively, the two plots are at war with each other, making the film feel like it was shot separately and then stitched back up together for whatever this monstrosity is.
Check out the full review for Suburbicon here below.
Surburbicon takes place in the late 1950s in the titular idyllic neighborhood where everything is perfect. The humble small town prides itself on its education, thriving business, and church choir. But the thing the city is most proud of is its diversity, where they claim families come from all over America to live in this neighborhood. Apparently, Suburbicon’s idea of diversity means that white families come from different parts of the coast rather than urban areas. So when an African-American family, the Mayers, moves into the neighborhood, everyone in town, including the mailman, is shocked and dismayed. This event is enough of an uproar to have the neighborhood hold an emergency town hall meeting.
At the same time, Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon), Rose Lodge (Julianne Moore), Margaret (also Moore), and Nicky Lodge (Noah Jupe) are being held against their will in their own house. It’s not clear what their captors want, but they begin to tie up the family and using chloroform to put them to sleep. Gardner, Margret, and Nicky all regain consciousness, but Rose dies, leaving the family in complete shock and unable to figure out what to do next. However, as the film slowly unravels, when it is not already switching back to the racial tension subplot, we soon discover that all is not right within this peaceful neighborhood, and the cops and insurance agents begin to sniff around the Lodges.
While the trailers sold us on this concept that Surburbicon is a social satire mixed in with a murder-mystery comedy, the film is at war with itself when it switches back to the racial tension subplot. It wouldn’t be so much of a problem if these subplots felt like two completely different films. These subplots never intertwine with each other. But because audiences are made to believe that the Lodges and Mayers’ simple interaction led to Rose’s murder and the fact that a murder never happened in Suburbicon until after the Mayers moved into the neighborhood. So the film carries on by switching back and forth between the two subplots, which slowly reveals itself to be two separate things entirely.
When it wants to focus on the racial tensions, we see how the Mayers are treated. They are constantly harassed as the neighborhood screams and shouts outside their home. Mrs. Mayers cannot even buy milk at its regular price and is forced to shop elsewhere when the manager raises the price from $10 to $20. But if its price gauging or destruction of property of putting up Confederate flags at the front of their window, the Mayers turn the other cheek, choosing not to react with violence but live their lives in peace. And that would have worked as a separate film. It’s the fact that the Lodge’s plot chooses to rear its ugly head that makes Suburbicon disjointed.
Here’s proof that the Mayer’s subplot has nothing to do with whatever is going on with the Lodge’s: Other than the Mayer’s kid and the Lodge’s kid playing baseball with each other, we never really see the parents interact with each other for more than five minutes. And this is a movie that runs for 105 minutes. But it’s pretty clear which subplot the film prefers as a majority of the movie gives its best material to the murder mystery comedy subplot. The moronic missteps that Garner takes to cover up his crime is one thing we’ve seen constantly in the Coen Brothers dry comedies. However, the film is at war with itself, and the jokes never quite land.
The only character of any interest or real engagement is Oscar Isaac‘s, who plays the hard-nosed insurance agent who may be too good at his job, and he knows it. Garner is nothing more than a creep who tries to outrun the law, the mob, and even his own son, whom he tries to ship off to boarding school. But it isn’t clear why he wants to run away other than the fact that he wants to cash in on the insurance check. Then there’s Margret, who seems lifeless. Both are idiots, but that has a lot more to do with the fact that the film uses a script co-written by the Coen brothers.
But the constant tonal shifts is another part of Surburbicon’s problem. For one thing, it doesn’t know if it wants to tell the story from Nicky’s point of view or Gardner’s point of view. Watching Nicky’s reactions throughout the film, he slowly discovers that life in the idyllic Suburbicon isn’t as perfect as the opening pitch made it out to be. Which plays to the Coen brothers’ twisted sense of irony. But it only makes the film that much more confusing. Who is this film about and what kind of story when all of the elements never gel.