This article previously appeared on Crossfader
Director: George Clooney
Genre: Thriller, Mystery
Two things that annoy me to no end are movies that waste their own potential and movies that waste my time. So you can imagine how aggravated I was after sitting through George Clooney’s newest directorial attempt, SUBURBICON—a film that seems to contain certain elements reminiscent of a delectably sardonic Coen Brothers film, but ultimately fails to be anything more than a disappointing, vacuous look into the ostensibly halcyon days of American life in the late ‘50s. In the eponymous, seemingly idyllic town, two families each encounter their own slice of disturbing hell. On one side, the grief-stricken Lodge family must deal with the monsters who murdered a close relative; next door, the newly-moved-in Mayers family are terrorized by the bigoted residents of Suburbicon. These different worlds are connected by the friendship of the young sons in each family—their brief interactions, and nothing else. Despite the relatively interesting premises of the two disparate storylines, with each new quasi-dramatic scene, SUBURBICON proves again and again that it has way less substance than it likes to think it does. The film never bothers to fuse the two stories together in a coherent way, in effect offering up a failed amalgamation of separate storylines that still somehow fail to stand on their own.
TLDR? My thoughts about this film summed up in two expressions
The film opens when the first African-American family moves into picturesque Suburbicon, only to find hordes of hateful, white neighbors opposing their presence. However, the Mayers—based on the real Myers family in Levittown, Pennsylvania—remain adamant about showing indifference to the shouts, taunts, and insults spewed their way. While their resilience is inspiring, SUBURBICON fails to characterize them as anything but. This family and their problems are put in the backseat; the film only touches on them every so often, and only ever to depict the unnerving bigotry of those in town. It treats the violence and hatred as just another plot point to add dramatic flair, never fully realizing the potential to make any relevant historical or political commentary. Clooney completely overlooks the troubles of the Mayers, in effect failing to give them any distinct characteristics or character arcs that transcend the role of the oppressed but resilient minority.
After Mrs. Mayers (Karimah Westbrook) visits a grocery store that hiked up the prices of all its items to $20 just for her, she leaves with her head held high, and the topic is never mentioned again. I’m not even sure if her husband Mr. Mayers (Leith M. Burke) has any line of dialogue that is not another reiteration of “don’t mind the white people.” Only little Andy Mayers (Tony Espinosa) is given a moderate amount of screen time, but it still isn’t enough to flesh out his character, his family, and their problems. While it surely is inspirational to see characters not get beaten down by the problems they encounter, scenes with the Mayers only further underline SUBURBICON’s inability to deliver a message that isn’t anything but vapid. The film just doesn’t understand that simply depicting something unpleasant on-screen is not the same thing as addressing the core issues that pervade alongside it.
Sock it to them, Mrs. Mayers
Right next door to the Mayers, salesman Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) struggles to deal with the death of his wife, Rose (Julianne Moore). To help with his grief and the rearing of his young son, Nicky (Noah Jupe), Rose’s twin sister Margaret (surprise! Also played by Moore) moves in. Their restored nuclear family is once again disrupted by the return of mobsters Louis (Alex Hassell) and Sloan (Glenn Fleshler), who are linked to the family in more sinister ways than the film initially lets on. Eventually, insurance claims investigator Bud Cooper (Oscar Isaac) arrives with the intention of making Gardner and Margaret pay for their mistakes. Half-way through the movie I realized I had no idea what was going on with this plot, or where the film was going. SUBURBICON constantly seems like it’s making an attempt to make sense, but then completely shoots itself in the foot. Even when the Lodge story fully reveals all of its nefarious twists and turns, it was too little, too late; I simply didn’t care.
By the end of the film, there is zero sympathy for any of the main characters, and not in the ingenious and comical way many Coen Brothers’ films are able to pull off. SUBURBICON provides no reason to root for its main cast (except for little fighter Nicky), all of whom end up flat and unpleasant, motivated only by the need to add more chaos to this already nauseating endeavor. Even with a stellar cast who try their best to give creepy and chilling performances (such as Moore as psychotic Aunt Margaret or Isaac as a corrupted investigator), the film fails because of its inability to drive home a message with any real weight, thought, or heart. And while it does boast highly-stylized production design and groovy cinematography that brings some life to this otherwise clunky and wayward trial, the true downfall of SUBURBICON comes from its nonsensical and bewildered tone in dealing with the issues of life in the close-minded town.
Punch buggy blue! Can I punch Clooney in the arm for making me sit through this shit show of a film?
If anything, SUBURBICON is a grim reminder that in spite of the decades that separate the real life events in Levittown and present day, many of the same violent and repulsive actions of bigoted individuals continue to persist. Shots of maniacal, entitled Suburbicon residents harassing the Mayers no doubt reflect the disgusting, white supremacists in the violent unrests in Charlottesville merely three months ago. And despite the opportunity to criticize or reflect on the prejudice that seems to pervade every corner, once again, the issues that permeate the lives of minorities in the United States are overshadowed by the insane misadventures of the self-absorbed and entitled majority.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend