February 3, 2018

Blu-Ray Review: SUBURBICON

Starring Matt Damon, Julianna Moore, Oscar Isaac, Noah Jupe, Tony Espinoza, Glenn Flesher, Gary Basaraba, Karimah Westbrook, Leith Burke, Megan Ferguson. Directed by George Clooney. (2017/105 min).

I really wanted to like Suburbicon. After all, it was originally written by the Coen Brothers, who are a national treasure.

They left directorial chores in the capable hands of good buddy George Clooney, who's helmed some fine films and has always seemed in-sync with the Coen's quirkiness. Throwing in a fine cast headed by Matt Damon and Julianna Moore, I was excited to check this one out, despite some scathing reviews.

So it saddens me to say Suburbicon is a massive disappointment. The performances are good, as is the production design depicting an ultra-conservative, squeaky-clean, 50's-era Americana. The leaden story, however, is disjointed and dull, not helped by heavy-handed satire and failed attempts at black comedy.

Suburbicon tells two concurrent stories, only one of which has an actual plot. Damon plays Gardner Lodge, an uptight suburbanite whose invalid wife, Rose (Moore), dies during a home robbery. Her twin sister, Margaret (also Moore) moves in to take care of Gardner and his young son, Nickey. But something sinister is going on at the Lodge home, and after a visit from insurance investigator Bud Cooper (Oscar Isaac), Nicky begins to suspect his mother's death may not have been the result of a robbery gone wrong.

Too much jelly.
The other story, which accounts for a third of the film's running time, is about the Meyers, the first black family to move to Suburbicon. They are increasingly harassed and tormented by angry white neighbors. Mob mentality soon turns things violent and the Meyers are helpless to do anything about it. In fact, these characters simply display silent passive resistance as the onslaught escalates. There are no insights on racism, no resolution, no character development. The Meyers are just symbols, the neighbors a faceless mob.

Other than a few scenes of Nicky and the Meyers' son, Andy, playing together, at no point do these stories intersect or converge. The tenuous tie of these boys' friendship is all that really keeps Suburbicon from being two completely different movies, neither of which achieve the tone they are aiming for. Damon and Moore certainly do their best, but the Lodge story is not-only predictable, attempts at black humor and satire fall flat because we've seen the suburban American Dream skewered in countless other movies. The Meyers' segments don't even aim that high...just one ugly scene after another of angry white men abusing their neighbors. If there was some kind of context to be found in the mindless mayhem, it was lost on me. We already knew many African-Americans were treated horribly back then. Watching another ham-fisted example of doesn't isn't revelatory. It's simply depressing.

Considering the level of talent on both sides of the camera, Suburbicon should have been a home-run (or at least an RBI double). Ultimately, there is probably a good reason Coen Brothers, who wrote the initial screenplay decades ago, never got around to making it themselves. It's a distressingly scattershot collection of half-baked ideas uncomfortably - and unconvincingly - thrown together. This one is an unfortunate let-down.

FEATURETTES: "Welcome to Suburbicon"; "The Unusual Suspects: Casting"; "Scoring Suburbicon"
AUDIO COMMENTARY - By George Clooney and co-writer Grant Heslov.

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