For a review of “Suburbicon,”
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, awardwinning filmmakers can get it totally, embarrassingly wrong sometimes. There’s no other way to say it — this movie stinks. It is irritating, faux- edgy, tonally wack, strained, unfunny and such 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 doltish dork 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 actually 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 very sad and solemn about the evils of racism. But you can’t mix nihilism and earnestness. It just doesn’t work.
Bloody hijinks 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 young 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.
“Suburbicon,” a Paramount Pictures release, is rated R for violence, language and some sexuality. Running time: 104 minutes.
“Thank You for Your Service”
It’s been a long time since “The Best Years of Our Lives,” the beloved 1946 film about soldiers returning home to their families after World War II, but the story, in many ways, remains the same.
In William Wyler’s movie, the sacrifices of war were embodied by vet- turnedactor Harold Russell, who lost both his hands in the Army. But combat injuries aren’t always so visible, as evidenced in “Thank You for Your Service,” the directorial debut of “American Sniper” writer Jason Hall, who adapted David Finkel’s book for the screen.
“Thank You for Your Service” explores the devastation of PTSD suffered by American soldiers returning home in 2007, during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Washington Post journalist Finkel embedded with a group of soldiers in Iraq to write the book “The Good Soldiers,” and his follow up, “Thank Your for Your Service,” details their readjustment to their families and civilian life while battling physical, mental and emotional injuries.
Miles Teller stars as Sgt. Adam Schumann, who struggles to find his footing back home with his wife ( Haley Bennett) and kids. He seems most at ease when looking out for his boys, like he did back in Iraq, and is plagued by guilt over incidents at home and abroad when he was unable to save his buddies from injury or death.
The detailing of their physical and emotional injuries is laid in an almost edutainment style, citing statistics about suicide, and careful questionnaires about mental distress. But it’s at once an account of PTSD and a wartime mystery. While these young vets struggle to receive treatment for their combat stress, traumatic brain injuries and suicidal thoughts, they also speak cryptically about, “what happened to Doster,” one of their comrades who died, leaving behind a distraught widow ( Amy Schumer) searching for answers.
While parts of “Thank You for Your Service” work well, overall, the film is inconsistent. A middle section lays out a perfect villain that is disappointingly dropped: the governmental system that churns through boys and leaves them alone to navigate the bureaucratic nightmare that is Veterans Affairs, while admonishing them that it’s “bad for morale” to ask for help.
This biting, trenchant social commentary is abandoned for a misguided subplot involving Solo ( Beulah Koale), Adam’s buddy, getting caught up in a bad situation with a drug dealer, a Desert Storm vet. It’s extremely disappointing that the film ultimately positions the real threat as a fellowvet, a man of color, rather than the war machine that chewed them up and spit them out.
The representations of the Army wives aren’t all that much to write home about either. They’re mostly shrill nags who can’t understand. Amy Schumer, making a turn toward dramatic fare, is woefully miscast. In a brown wig, it’s too hard to separate her from her comedic persona, and it almost feels like one of her “Inside Amy Schumer” sketches.
Teller is a compelling actor, and when the film focuses on Adam and his boys— their bonds forged in combat, sealed with blood— it’s sensitive and moving. No man is left behind, even back home. Teller is best across from Koale, who is utterly riveting in his soulful performance as the American Samoan soldier Solo. Despite its storytelling inconsistencies, the film reveals a harrowing veteran experience when it focuses simply on the men themselves.
“Thank You For Your Service,” a DreamWorks Pictures release, is rated R for strong violent content, language throughout, some sexuality, drug material and brief nudity. Running tine: 108 minutes. ½
Haley Bennett, left, and Miles Teller star in “Thank You for Your Service.” The drama follows a group of U. S. soldiers returning from Iraq who struggle to integrate back into family and civilian life.