A tone-deaf misfire from Clooney, the Coen brothers
The talent in front of and behind the camera for George Clooney’s latest directorial effort, the 1950s satire “Suburbicon,” has accumulated heaps of Oscar gold. But talented, award-winning filmmakers can get it totally, embarrassingly wrong sometimes. There’s no other way to say it — this movie stinks. It is irritating, fauxedgy, strained, unfunny and a colossally tone-deaf misfire.
Clooney enlists Julianne Moore to trot out her tired Stepford wife routine, while Matt Damon phones in another iteration of his doofus character. But both of their performances just make us think of times when they’ve done this before, only better.
“Suburbicon” is a grotesque Frankenstein’s monster stitched together from parts of “Pleasantville,” “Fargo,” “Far From Heaven” and “The Informant!,” which are all great films, but this meaningless pastiche has no idea what it wants to say. Opening with an advertisement for a cookie-cutter Levittown-style suburb called Suburbicon, we plunge into this world of big hair, big skirts, perfect lawns and nuclear families. It’s picture-perfection with diversity by way of white families from Ohio and Mississippi. But there’s darkness underneath all that sameness.
“Suburbicon” fundamentally fails in asking its audience to do two wildly different things at the same time. We’re to laugh at a satirical family murder insurance scam, but we’re also supposed to feel sad and solemn about the evils of racism. But you can’t mix nihilism and earnestness. It just doesn’t work. MPAA rating: R (for violence, language and some sexuality) Running time: 1:45 Opens: Friday
Bloody high jinks ensue in half of this movie. Rose (Moore), the wife of square businessman Gardner Lodge (Damon), is murdered in a terrifying home invasion. Her twin sister, Maggie (also Moore), moves in to care for their son, Nicky (Noah Jupe), but the relationship between his dad and aunt instantly seems fishy to the boy, and things spiral out of control for Gardner.
This absurdist, violent tale is classic Coen Brothers. They originally wrote the script, and their voice is obvious. Clooney and his writing/producing partner Grant Heslov also took a pass, and it’s clear that the filmmaker who excels at straightforward, politically engaged efforts like “Good Night and Good Luck,” couldn’t resist shoehorning in some social commentary about the toxic hegemony of Suburbicon.
Concurrent to the slow family annihilation, we witness the plight of the Meyers family, the first African-American residents in Suburbicon, who are tormented day and night by a racist mob of their neighbors. What is the point of this gross subplot? It’s a condescending, critically uninterrogated take on old-timey racism — are we to feel better that racism is more nuanced and camouflaged now? Mr. Meyers doesn’t even get a single line. He’s completely voiceless, and we watch this family silently endure this burden for some futile reason.
There are a couple of bright spots: Oscar Isaac brings the energy up as a skeptical insurance agent, while Jupe brings the heart and soul. There are moments where it seems they might have told the whole bloody tale from Nicky’s perspective, which would have been interesting, but that’s abandoned.
Ultimately “Suburbicon” is woefully underwritten. Gardner and Maggie are mere sketches, a set of facial tics and accessories masquerading as real characters. The racism story is so broad it’s essentially meaningless, and there are even some glaring continuity errors. “Suburbicon” is a shoddy, shameful showing, despite prestigious origins.
Julianne Moore plays a Stepford wife in “Suburbicon.”