Director: George Clooney Starring: Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Oscar Isaac, Noah Jupe Runtime: 105 minutes
Amongst the white picket fences and pristinely mowed lawns of 1950’s American suburbia, director George Clooney sets the scene for his new comedy noir, Suburbicon. Originally penned (and subsequently shelved) by the Coen Brothers in 1986, the movie found new life in the hands of Clooney and long-time writing partner Grant Heslov. After years on the shelf, the film has finally reached our screens with the same wicked sense of humour we have come to expect from the Coen Brothers throughout the years. Just like the titular town itself, there are a few cracks in the foundation of Suburbicon but not nearly enough to sink what is a watchable, surreal and funny film.
In 1959 the small and idyllic town of Suburbicon stands as a shining example of the ‘perfect life’ in postwar America. The Lodge family, led by Gardner Lodge (Damon), his wife and her twin sister (Moore), go about their daily lives in a similar fashion to their neighbours on the street. However, when a robbery turns violent, Gardner finds himself plunging the depths of the community’s hidden underbelly. As the town erupts into chaos and disorder, the Lodge family must face the crisis within their own walls.
Suburbicon is truly a pleasant surprise. After receiving significantly negative backlash following its U.S. release, hopes weren’t set too high for Clooney’s recent outing behind the camera. However, the movie proves to be rather entertaining at points, due in large part to its wicked sense of humour and peculiar characters.
Considering the original script’s first draft was completed over 30 years ago, the Coen Brothers charm and humour still manages to noticeably weave its way through the film. It is easy to examine aspects of Suburbicon and notice elements shared between the films that, at that time, were to follow (Fargo, O Brother, Where Art Thou?). While the quality is obviously incomparable, Suburbicon shares the same interest in exploring the ‘big crime in a small town’ theme as well as undermining its protagonists throughout the story.
While Damon’s clueless Gardner is entertaining, it is the supporting characters who are the most memorable. From the wisecracking chief of police to the goofy yet street-smart Uncle Mitch, the majority of the laughs originate from our time with the film’s secondary players, as opposed to Damon and Moore. It is Oscar Isaac, however, who undeniably steals the show. His turn as the suave and shady insurance investigator is absurd, intentionally over-the-top and fiercely enjoyable. In yet another striking example of Isaac’s abilities as an actor, his small time on screen makes for the best part of the entire film and is worth the price of a ticket alone!
The movie isn’t without some obvious faults, however. While Clooney commands strong performances from most of the actors, other performances fall flat. Considering the caliber of actor she is, it is surprising to note that Moore’s turn on screen is rather weak in comparison to others around her. However, this may have more to do with the weak character she finds herself playing. In addition, in an effort to satirise the society of the time, some characters are painted as cartoons rather than possible personas for the story. It is in this shift to social satire that Suburbicon tends to trip over itself.
While the film boasts a strong sense of humour, some of the punchlines concerning the society of the time don’t always land. Unfortunately for the film, it often isn’t as smart as it wants to be or, indeed, thinks it is. While the movie mainly concerns itself with the dark happenings within the Lodge household, a separate story runs parallel to it. As the Mayers’ – an African American family – move onto the street, the predominantly white neighbourhood react in an abhorrent and destructive manner. The sub-plot, added by Clooney and Heslov during rewrites, is an interesting and admirable attempt at discussing the hateful bigotry of 1950’s America – as a kind and innocent family are wrongfully persecuted on the basis of their skin colour, the guilty and violent Lodge family walk around safe and unnoticed.
However, the film doesn’t explore the idea as much as mention it and leave it with its audience. As tensions rise and rise throughout the film, the conversation on racism is never built upon from the beginning of the film. In addition to this, as the main plot relies on wacky and surreal comedy, the sub-plot almost feels out of place between the two strands of story.
Despite all of this, Suburbicon is still a watchable and enjoyable film. It has its flaws, but it never fails to entertain from start to finish.(3 / 5)