Suburbicon opens nationwide October 27, 2017 • Dir. George Clooney • Matt Damon, Julianne Moore • TLM Rating 2/4
There’s a deep-seated satisfaction from seeing something unravel, especially when it has made claims of perfection. In this spirit, “Suburbicon” presents one of those ’50s, Norman Rockwell suburbs of legend. You know the one: nuclear families inhabit interchangeable houses, every lawn is fastidiously kept, mailmen trot about with a smile and little boys are collectively known as “sport.”
Within this domestic fantasy is the Lodge family. When we first meet them, they are being held hostage by two scoundrels of the highest order—each has a wanted poster for a face. The ramifications of this encounter define the movie, much of which is seen through the eyes of the littlest Lodge, Nicky (Noah Jupe). From this strategic position, we see the family unit devolve into a pack of wolves, bent on survival. Instead of fangs and claws, they have fire pokers and lethal doses of prescription medication.
This is a polished, studio production put on by professionals. As such, the movie is pleasant to look at, with its vibrant recreation of the era where happiness could be sold with a white picket fence. Matt Damon and Julianne Moore are believable as the spineless leaders of the Lodge family, particularly the former, who rotates between dorky and dangerous. But as the story itself reminds us, all that glitters is not gold, and can sometimes even be blood on a fire poker.
The blood on this movie’s proverbial fire poker is its consistency, or lack thereof. In George Clooney’s attempt to craft a dark comedy, he gets lost between worlds, resulting in a movie that is alternately dark and comedic, but rarely at once. For example, as word spreads across town that a black family has moved in, their house is quickly bombarded by a horde of angry racists, spewing insults and making an obnoxious amount of noise. A large portion of the film is dedicated to this sour spectacle, and all for the sake of a single joke. The payoff doesn’t fit the set-up, like receiving a lollipop after a root canal.
Of course, this would matter little—or would be less noticeable—if the film was funny, but there’s blood on this fire poker, as well. Much of the comedy is of the class clown variety, in that it brings too much attention to itself and banks on its audience’s desperation for anarchy. Take a scene where a character is giving a speech, feeling pretty self-important, only to unwittingly bite into a poisoned sandwich. At this point, the joke has made itself known, but the scene keeps going, repeating the same joke, talking and taking bites. It’s not unlike a stand-up who delivers a joke, bombs, and then awkwardly repeats the punchline because he thinks the audience didn’t hear. This comedic clumsiness is not an isolated incident. Only a few minor visual gags are able to lighten the mood (Damon squeezing stress relievers is a worthy image).
“Sububricon” is based on an idea by the Coen brothers, which is obvious, considering the amount of homegrown mayhem. Yet, there is no sense of fun; memorable dialogue is a no-show; original, unpredictable characters have been replaced with exaggerated archetypes.
What little the film does have going for it is weighed down by a sobering subplot, the presence of which feels as abrupt as changing the channel from a cartoon to a harrowing news report. The film has an identity crisis—that much is clear—but I’m not sure whether either of its identities are ultimately worth saving.