‘Suburbicon’ feels like three separate movies combined into one, and none of them work

 By Hunter Heilman

October 26, 2017

George Clooney, returning for his sixth feature film, is seeking to wash the bitter taste of his last film from people’s memory. While The Monument’s Men wasn’t particularly offensive, it was a stilted and awkward take on World War II from an otherwise solid actor turned director. Suburbicon is a bit of a strange step for the director, both because it is the first film of his in his directorial repertoire in which he does not star, and because it mixes a bevy of different genres and styles together into a strange hybrid film of murder, race and conspiracy.

And hardly a single thing in it works.

Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) is a man living a seemingly perfect, made-for-TV life in the town of Suburbicon, a 1950s suburb that’s flawless from every angle. When home intruders attack Gardner and his family, including his son, Nicky (Noah Jupe), his mother, Rose (Julianne Moore) and her sister, Margaret (also played by Julianne Moore), the intruders leave Garnder, Nicky and Margaret incapacitated, while killing Rose in the process. Reeling from the loss of his wife, Gardner and his family must protect themselves from the intruders returning, as well as the implications from the intruder’s motives in the first place. All the while, Suburbicon is reeling from the first black family moving into the neighborhood, prompting major civil unrest from the white residents.

Matt Damon as Gardner Lodge courtesy of Paramount Pictures

If it sounds like Suburbicon is a hodgepodge of a million different elements, that’s because it is. If you’re also wondering how they all intertwine and fit together thematically, spoiler alert: they don’t. Everything in Suburbicon is so terribly disjointed and messy that it feels like three separate films pushed into one, leaving each feeling hollow and inconsequential. The social satire of the ’50s is lost in the dark subject matter of the film, which is inversely blunted by the film’s lighthearted attitude, while the racial sub-plot of the film feels entirely forced and meaningless to the message Clooney was attempting to convey. I can understand the whole “People fear what they don’t know, even when it’s their neighbors who they should fear” message, but to shoehorn such a heavy and important topic into a film as lighthearted and satirical as Suburbicon is pretty lazy and irresponsible.

The inclusion of the storyline of the black family moving into Suburbicon was a decent attempt at reminding audiences of the politicized nature of the ’50s, breaking the stereotype of the perfect white family archetype shown in the era’s shows. But surely there are ways to make use of the political unrest at the time than soullessly injecting the film with a completely separate storyline that actively undermines the impact of the main storyline. Having a family be plagued by murder and deception is enough to paint the picture of a less-than-perfect utopia.

Julianne Moore as Rose/Nancy/Margaret courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Because of this, however stylishly shot Suburbicon is, its aesthetic is jilted and messy in the end. When the film takes its straightforward, I Love Lucy-like aesthetic, it’s incredibly pleasing to look at, but it’s when the film begins to tread into its thriller or its civil rights drama territory, the film’s style begins to look weirdly out of place and borderline inappropriate. Attempting to mesh three genres with three different looks and to keep it cohesive is a daunting task, and it’s something Suburbicon fails to do.

Performances are okay across the board, but none are anywhere near the best they’ve been. In fact, Damon might give one of the most underwhelming performances of his career. With the amount of both comedic and dramatic heft the film has, Damon seems disinterested in the material. He’s flat, unlikable and so uncharismatic; we forget his character’s name before the credits. Moore and Oscar Isaac, two actors who could read material out of a phone book, are nowhere near their potential, but do give some decent performances in the film. Neither are given ample time to flesh out their characters.

The screenplay, written by not only Clooney and Grant Heslov, was penned by legendary filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen, arguably two of the finest screenwriters still in the game. It leads me to wonder at which step Suburbicon went wrong, as this is not simply an underwhelming film, but an unmitigated disaster that falters at nearly everything it does. With a crew so incredibly talented, who missed the fact that this movie is barely release-worthy?

Matt Damon as Gardner Lodge courtesy of Paramount Pictures

I didn’t go into Suburbicon with high expectations, but I didn’t expect the complete and utter mess the film ended up being. Suburbicon feels like three separate movies combined into one, and none of which are well-constructed, leading to the inevitable train collision that begins to form in its final, jumbled finale. Nothing in Suburbicon felt whole, nor did it ever flow in a way that felt even remotely organic. Suburbicon could quite possibly be the “worst case scenario” option for the Hollywood prestige pictures that pervade the fall season.

Star Rating: 1 out of 5

This movie review appears courtesy of the Niner Times. The original version can be found here.

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