Suburbicon wants to be a thrilling murder mystery. Suburbicon also wants to be a social satire film, that lightheartedly explores what it means to be a family. Suburbicon also wants to be a commentary on race relations of the 1950s especially in white suburbs. Trying to juggle all of these radically different and tonally separate ideas, Suburbicon manages to fail at all of them leaving a bizarrely mashed together mess of a movie.
In 1959, the idealistic suburb community known as Suburbicon is rocked to its very core when a black family moves into what had previously been an all white neighborhood. The neighbors are outraged, worrying about what this could mean for the community, for their safety, and more importantly, how the new neighbors might impact their property value. At the same time in an adjacent but completely different story, young boy Nicky Lodge (Noah Jupe ) is awoken by his father in the dead of the night because a pair of men have broken into their home. Nicky’s family consists of himself, his father (Matt Damon) and his mother and aunt (twins both played by Julianne Moore). When the family is chloroformed by the home invaders, Nicky’s mother dies as a result of the chloroforming.
The mother’s death sparks a chain of events as we slowly learn that the accidental death may not be as accidental as previously thought. At this point the movie starts to fight with itself as it tries to figure out what kind of movie it wants to be. It starts as a mystery, but soon it gives up on that point and just tells you what happened so that it can be a dark thriller movie. It attempts to be a back comedy more than once, but then, out of nowhere, it expects you to take it seriously again. And all the while the story constantly has to slam on the breaks to check in with how the neighborhood is dealing with the new family. It’s important to note that these two storylines never interact with each other. The characters cross paths once or twice, but one story has no impact on the other. It’s as if two entirely different movies are being shown at the same time. You get the feeling of trying to watch two channels.
The identity crisis of the movie extends to the characters as well. One moment Matt Damon is meant to be an intimidating figure, cool, calm, and collected, then just a few scenes later, he’s a bumbling idiot who gotten in too deep and can’t get out. It’s unclear if their plan is supposed to be a good one that went wrong, or everyone’s an idiot, and they’ve only gotten this far through sheer dumb luck. The entire thing is messy, disjointed and confusing to the point where it’s impossible to care what happens to anybody one way or the other.
The one shining moment comes from Oscar Isaac who plays the minor role of Bud Cooper, the insurance agent investigating the claim made on the death of the mother. Its as if Isaac walked into Suburbicon, straight from a better movie. He’s charming, smart, funny, and more importantly consistent. In his very brief time in the movie, we know who he is, what his goals are, how he plans to achieve those goals, and we get to see him put his plan into motion. It’s a woefully short scene, because it’s the one part of the movie that feels like it knows what it wants to be.
Suburbicon was originally a Coen Brothers script that was written in the 1980s, but never produced. What’s frustrating is that even as big of a mess as the movie is, it still feels like the script had potential. Several aspects of the movie were crammed onto an already existing script each one hurting the product as a whole. It’s also possible that not just anybody can pull off a Coen Brothers movie. Director George Clooney has worked with the Coen Brothers four times before, but as well as he must know the Coen Brothers style by now, the style of this movie still feels off. You can see the Coen Brothers influence on the movie but it, like much of the movie, feels poorly managed. There’s so much talent behind the camera with the Coen Brothers script and Clooney (who has proven to be a talented director in the past) in the director’s chair it’s a shame that the end product is such a mess.
Tags: Coen Brothers, film, George Clooney, Julianne Moore, Matt Damon, movie, review, suburbicon