An edge­less satire in Ge­orge Clooney’s ‘Subur­bicon’

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - ARTS & CULTURE - RE­VIEW By Lind­sey Bahr

LOS AN­GE­LES: The per­fect ve­neer of 1950s subur­ban life is just a mask for the deep rot and hypocrisy fes­ter­ing un­der­neath the trimmed lawns in Ge­orge Clooney’s “Subur­bicon,” a some­what de­riv­a­tive and edge­less satire with some com­pelling per­for­mances nonethe­less.

Clooney di­rects a script cred­ited to Joel and Ethan Coen, him­self and Grant Heslov about a model com­mu­nity, Subur­bicon, that prom­ises a per­fect subur­ban ex­is­tence – a par­cel of prop­erty for all, clean and well-stocked gro­cery stores, no traf­fic and friendly neigh­bors. There’s a catch, though, and it is skin deep.

This is a prob­lem when the Mey­ers fam­ily (Karimah West­brook, Leith M. Burke and Tony Espinosa) moves to town. They are black, you see.

The rest of the com­mu­nity is not thrilled about it – eye­brows are raised, meet­ings are held (with in­ter­change­able mid­dle-aged white men in flat top hair­cuts and wire-rimmed glasses shout­ing at one an­other through Dutch an­gle shots). Crowds start to gather out­side of the Mey­ers house till it be­comes an all-out mob.

The plight of the Mey­ers fam­ily is just the side story, though, a tacke­don and bluntly con­ceived commentary on how this com­mu­nity is too dis­tracted by their racist fears to see what’s go­ing on next door – where Gard­ner (Matt Da­mon), his wheel­chair-bound wife and his sis­ter-in­law (both played by Ju­lianne Moore) and his young son, Nicky (Noah Jupe) are ter­ror­ized in their own home by two goons with un­clear mo­tives.

It’s prob­a­bly best not to say much about how this home in­va­sion spi­rals and evolves, but it brings a fair amount of in­trigue and ter­rific side char­ac­ters into the strange or­bit of the mil­que­toast Gard­ner.

There’s the em­pa­thetic Un­cle Mitch (Gary Basaraba), a lum­ber­ing and sweet pres­ence who just wants to look af­ter his nephew Nicky. In his brief ap­pear­ance, three-step­sa­head in­sur­ance agent West­brook (Os­car Isaac) steals the show.

The same can be said of West­brook’s Mrs. Mey­ers, de­spite not much screen time or di­a­logue, es­pe­cially in a par­tic­u­larly up­set­ting scene in a gro­cery store where a sales man­ager tells her that, for her, the price of milk is $20.

In his turn as young Nicky, Jupe proves a fan­tas­tic and com­pelling find, car­ry­ing much of the film as the hy­per-vig­i­lant kid who is watch­ing his world un­ravel and do­ing some­thing about it.

The leads are a lit­tle more un­der­whelm­ing, which is per­haps a prob­lem of the script. Da­mon plays Gard­ner as a kind of quiet every­man, the type who re­cedes into the back­ground and goes un­no­ticed most of the time. Moore is more over-the-top, es­pe­cially as the sis­terin-law Mar­garet, who strains to be the per­fect ’50s woman.

There are times when they’re al­lowed to play a bit with quirky di­a­logue that I would as­sume is thanks to the Coens – like an amus­ing dis­cus­sion about Aruba – but these mo­ments are fewer than you might imag­ine from a Coen-crafted script.

Of all the pe­ri­ods that Clooney could have cho­sen to skewer, it feels al­most tooth­less to take on ’50s sub­ur­bia. Cer­tainly there are meant to be par­al­lels with today, but it is too ob­vi­ous to be par­tic­u­larly sub­ver­sive or re­veal­ing, and doesn’t go far enough to sat­i­rize the hyp­o­crit­i­cal so­cial mores of the time.

You’re left with just the plot, which moves along in a fairly com­pelling, if pre­dictable way. What’s the point of all this tal­ent and orig­i­nal­ity and free­dom if it’s go­ing to feel so much like some­thing we’ve al­ready seen be­fore?

“Subur­bicon” is screen­ing in Beirut-area cin­e­mas.

Moore and Da­mon in a scene from “Subur­bicon.”

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