Suburbicon review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Suburbicon echoes an atmosphere almost as old as golden fifties this subgenre satirizes. Akin to the likes of the lesser known Parents and the more well-known Pleasantville, this film pitches the same notion we’ve heard repeated time and time again. That the safe suburban neighborhood of white fences and families is nowhere near as safe and cheery as they appear, harboring dark secrets buried underneath their perfect lawns. But it’s surprising to see writers Joel and Ethan Coen and director George Clooney take such material and merely linger on the toxic setting rather than say anything interesting about it.
The film comes on strong by introducing the 1959 town of Suburbicon as a cheerful and peaceful community, send into chaos when a series of events occur. The first is the most cartoonish of rattling paradise; black neighbors! The mailman is shocked he is at a loss for words when delivering the mail and the neighborhood is so horrified that they stare and gawk. The fearful white community rallies to try to find some way to kick those brown people of the Mayer family off the block, organizing a protesting band that won’t stop singing and chanting outside their home.
It sounds like the story would be about racism, but that arc slowly fades as we introduce the more intricate goings-on of the black neighbor’s murder plot. The Lodge family becomes the target of robbers that tie them up and force chloroform into their faces. They pass out, but not all of them survive, as the mother succumbs to poisoning from chloroform exposure. How terrible for the father Gardner (Matt Damon) and his son Nicky (Noah Jupe). Oh, but they haven’t suffered enough. They’re targeted by hitmen further and it seems there’s a far more nasty plot at hand of deception and murder most foul.
Suburbicon has been pitched as a dark comedy, but it’s the inkiest kind of dark with comedy merely a loose byproduct in short supply. This is a film that showcases scenes of a mother being tragically buried, home visitors being poisoned, and a child cowering under his bed while angry hitmen swipe at him with knives. Not a single character is relatable in this farce as they all seem to have a motive and reason to kill each other, including the kid. Other additions to the cast include Julianne Moore as a sinister twin and Oscar Isaac as a scummy insurance salesman hungry for extortion. Random events will just happen to keep the story surprising but appear more as desperate acts of a script that is going nowhere. And the whole subplot of the black family next door peters out so terribly that its only purpose is for serving up the most heavy-handed of imagery in the final shot.
I can only fathom that this film would be considered a comedy for its imagery, expecting the audience to laugh at the 1950s setting for a terrifying plot involving the death of family members, racism, extortion, and children being targeted by hitmen. The story meanders in its messy staging that the only laughs seem to come from an overreaction to black neighbors and a scene of Matt Damon riding on a little kid’s bike while covered in blood. Sure, funny sights, but the more they hang around and the more the plot tries to contort itself further, any semblance of a joke is long gone. Better films about the disillusionment of the 1950s American dream exist and this sloppy presentation is one of the least interesting of that sub-genre, especially for assembling such talent behind the camera.