Spotlight Columns

Buttered and Salty: Suburbicon

By From page A7 | November 01, 2017


*  1/2
R, 1 hour, 44 minutes
Crime, Drama, Mystery

Throughout the almost two-hour runtime of George Clooney’s most recent directing effort, I sat in the theater contemplating who could have better served this material. Yes, “Suburbicon” is that mediocre.

That’s a shame, because there are ideas in this film that could have led to something truly intriguing in the right hands.

The tagline of this film reads: “A home invasion rattles a quiet family town,” which is as frustratingly deceptive a longline as I’ve ever heard. After an effective opening that doubles as an animated brochure for the community of Suburbicon, the film settles in as a dark comedy set against the backdrop of 1950s white suburbia. When the presence of the first black family — the Meyers — arrives in this “perfect” neighborhood, the community commits itself to using any means necessary to convince the family to leave.

I guess this was when America was great?

The film stays briefly interesting with the introduction of the Lodge clan, who lives directly behind the Meyers family. Matt Damon and Julianne Moore play the parents of young Nicky Lodge and they do an honorable job trying to elevate the material, especially Moore, who pulls double duty as both the boy’s mother and aunt. Nicky, played by Noah Jupe (who’s the most interesting character here), befriends the Meyers boy and that’s where I thought things were going to get interesting.

Instead the film turns into a crime comedy that frankly I don’t care about. Besides Nicky and the Meyers family (played by Karimah Westbrook, Leith Burke and Tony Espinosa as their son, respectively) these are such unlikable characters that I could care less what happens to them. What I really wanted to see was the friendship between the two kids of different races blossoming against the backdrop of racist 1950s suburbia.

Unfortunately we don’t get much of that, other than Clooney and editor Stephen Mirrione cutting to this sub-plot once every 20 minutes, which really affects the pacing.

It also affects the tone of the picture, which is all over the place. The problem lies in the fact that there are literally two films happening at once. The aforementioned bigotry towards the black Meyers family and the opportunistic crimes of the white Lodge family one house over. I watched the former, thinking that there is a heck of an effective film here. Regrettably we get much more of the latter.

The energy of the film lifts for the 10 minutes Oscar Isaac (“Star Wars: The Last Jedi”) is on screen, but he exits just as swiftly as he entered.

The music by Alexandre Desplat is overbearing almost to the point of being obnoxious. I know the filmmakers were going for the grand music of a 1950s crime drama but it makes an already frustrating viewing all the more vexing.

Clooney has never shied away from political or heady material but seems out of his comfort zone with this darkly satirical suburbia script. His confidence seems low from scene-to-scene, with several of them ending with a whimper or a fade-to-black, which happens at least a half a dozen times.

Which brings me back to who would have better served this material. I considered 1990’s Tim Burton, who nailed the strange underbelly of mid-century suburbia with “Edward Scissorhands.”

Or perhaps the Coen Brothers, who so effortlessly combined crime, drama, satire, blackmail and comedy in films like “Blood Simple” (1984),  “Fargo” (1996) and “The Man Who Wasn’t There” (2001).

As the film ended and the credits began to roll I anticipated the names of the people who scripted this misfire. Color me shocked when two names glowed from the screen:

Written by Joel and Ethan Coen.

Yeah, they would have nailed this. Rent it.

Joshua B. Porter is a writer/director/producer. The most recent film he produced “August Falls” is currently available on Amazon Prime as well as other streaming services. He can be reached at @joshuabporter or [email protected]

Joshua Porter

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