MOVIE REVIEW: Suburbicon

(Image: Awards Daily)

(Image: Awards Daily)


Since the dark comedy Suburbicon guns for all things topsy-turvy, let’s do the same with a review.  The three most outstanding artists of this film are not named Clooney, Coen, or Damon.  With Kevin Durant-like bouquets, the real MVPs of Suburbicon are James D. Bissell, Christa Munro, and Jan Pascale.  Bissell is the ace production designer of 300 and E.T.: the Extra-Terrestrial that is responsible for the most gloriously beautiful quality of this film: the sets.  He is backed by the art direction of Christa Munro (Live by Night) and the endlessly detailed set decoration work of Jan Pascale (Argo, Sicario).  

That’s right.  The most dazzling trait of Suburbicon is the inanimate.  Anything living and organic is witless and half-baked.  The back of this film’s baseball card suggests better than that with George Clooney in the director’s chair, the Coen brothers assisting on the script, and heavy hitters like Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, and Oscar Isaac in front of the camera.  Too much of that talent is wasted on asinine serendipity, aimless chattiness, and a social commentary that misses nearly every mark at point blank range.

Suburbicon is the fictitious name of a self-proclaimed “melting pot of diversity” described with full tongue-in-cheek hokeyness to jab at the pastoral with deserved cynicism.  The year in 1959 and the town’s staunchly bigoted Betterment Committee is in an uproar at the arrival of the first black family to move into Suburbicon.  Throwing tolerance out the window, the community makes it their mission to run them out of town.  Does that hot-button topic become this dark comedy’s core narrative to really point fingers to the parallels of today?  Nope.  More on that later.

Instead, the film’s selective gaze focuses on their backyard neighbors, the Lodge family, told through the eyes of Nicky (newcomer Noah Jupe), the only child of the household.  The patriarch, Gardner Lodge (an invested Matt Damon), is married to an identical twin (Julianne Moore’s willowy smiling act) who is confined to a wheelchair after an automobile accident.  Her twin sister (also Moore) lives with them to help care for the house and kid.  Their idyllic lifestyle is derailed, not by the growing racial commotion next door, but by an encounter with a pair of brutish intruders (creepily evil TV character actors Glenn Fleshler and Alex Hassell) that leads to murder.

The trauma of the unspeakable crime sets off the wild calamities that follow in Suburbicon, all of which are masked by peers offering religiously spiritual pleasantries of empty solidarity and maligned Episcopalian jokes.  True to a Coen-crafted ensemble, a crowded pit of conundrums fills with a persistent police investigator (Jack Conley), a pushy brother-in-law (Gary Basaraba), and a jovial insurance claims investigator (Oscar Isaac) poking around for coincidences and red flags.  Clinging to the muddy edge of that violent void are Damon’s fatherly despondency and Nicky’s well-being.

As stellar as it may be in production values and top-notch casting, Suburbicon lacks focus within its many angles.  Many ideas ended up on paper, clearly.  Few, if any, carry resolution.  One could infer that the bigotry subplot and the strength of the black family to weather the hate happening on the other side of the fence is supposed to stand as a foil of dichotomy to the seedy truths about the white folks of Suburbicon.  The angle is a colossal distraction that is poorly managed and entirely needless.  It stands a waste of a provocative position of social commentary that could have elevated the film.

That leaves the harebrained murder mystery for Clooney and company to hang their high hats on.  Even that is incredibly uneven in tone and delivery, chipping more away from George Clooney’s diminishing resume as a director.  Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Elswit (There Will Be Blood) tries to craft borderline noir-ish moments and angles of shadow within the kitschy interiors and sunny California exteriors.  Top-notch composer Alexandre Desplat taps a jazzy score to the hijinks.  Neither merits are worth the trouble in this mess.

Like the missed opportunities for greater discourse on the racial dichotomy, Suburbicon lazily delivers a caper that lacks cleverness, smarts, and anything edgy other than the spurts of hemoglobin that stain a few starched shirts.  Even if it is pitch black by design, the final ingredient of fake sentimentality glazed over the proceedings is ineffective to add any varnish to the acidic angle of white-collar crime.  Nonsensical twist follows nonsensical twist for a purpose that likely peaked at A-listers passing this off as an excuse for a few production months of hobnobbing tomfoolery together.

LESSON #1: DOMESTICATION GONE AWRY-- The anonymous mantra quotes of “crime doesn’t have an address” spoken by realtors, cops, and news reporters alike ring incredibly true even in satire.  Plenty of brutalities happens inside picket fences and behind flowered curtains that soil domestic tranquility.

LESSON #2: THE DEAD WEIGHT OF LIABILITIES-- Put an emphasis on “dead.”  The dominoes that fall in Suburbicon tally an increasing body count.  Each newly warm future daisy pusher met their end because they were a liability.  You don’t want to become one of those people are willing to kill to get rid of.

LESSON #3: WHITE PRIVILEGE WILL ALLOW YOU GREATER ABILITY TO COMMIT AND GET AWAY WITH A CRIME-- Yes, I’m playing the card because Suburbicon put it on the table.  Many times, those addresses in Lesson #1 are from the nicer and paler sides of towns, however, the insular outrage and blind eyes of arrogance follow in attachment that wouldn’t play the same way in other settings.  Instead of going for the jugular to call the issue out, the film’s bite on the topic is virtually toothless.