Most critics have slammed George Clooney’s latest directorial endeavour, which was universally described by Rotten Tomatoes as a “misfire”. And indeed the film is not without faults. But it’s not a complete disaster, either. Far from that. Despite some shortcomings in the script (which was penned by the Coen brothers) and in the acting, Suburbicon is still fun to watch. Perhaps most importantly, it’s a film with its heart at the place, and a witty take on American “suburban” or capitalistic values.
The film title refers to a supposedly peaceful and idyllic community with affordable homes, impeccable lawns and residents donning immaculate dresses and hairdos. The film opens with images as if taken from a hairy tale homes brochure. And the entire vintage has a charming vintage from the 1950s. It looks like the ultimate concretization of the American dream. George Clooney, however, begs to differ: the dreamlike world slowly descends into a nightmare, as locals become intoxicated with their very own petit bourgeois inclinations and racist views.
Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) is the father of a small family in Suburbicon. One night, the home of the Lodge family is broken into by two sadistic robbers, who proceed to sedate the whole family and to kill the matriarch Rose. Gardner is left to raise his child Nicky (Noah Jupe) with Rose’s twin sister Margaret. Both sisters are played are Julianne Moore. It predictably turns out that Lodge’s relationship to Margaret is far more profound that initially revealed, and that he may have an obscure connection with the local mafia as well as vested interests in the death of his wife. And so the American dream begins to collapse.
Parallel to all this, a black family has moved next door, and they immediately encounter rabid racism from the neighbours. The community erects a fence around their house, shouts profanities and vandalises their property while flying the Confederate flag. The only viable connection between the black family and the white community is the friendship between Noah and their black son of about the same age.
The best moments of the film are with the savvy death insurance agent played by Oscar Isaac (pictured above), who suspects there’s something “fishy” with the claim. Isaac is witty and sadistic, and he finds a very clever way to deal with the situation.
The biggest problem with Suburbicon is that these two narrative strands (the Lodgers and the black family) neither tie together nor complement each other. In fact, they compete with each other. The film would have worked much better without the black family. The very last scene is an attempt to fix this, but it simply doesn’t work. You will you catch yourself thinking: “what the heck?”. Also, Nicky’s character evolves to become the only ray of hope and decency in the story, but Jupe’s performance isn’t strong enough to support such a central role.
Suburbicon is out in cinemas across the UK on Friday, November 24th.