What comes to mind when you think of the 1950s? The Cold War, Sputnik, McCarthyism, post-war prosperity? Cheerful suburban home life following white flight from America’s cities, white picket fences, housewives with towering hairdos, and friendly neighbors? Or maybe we have come to see through the facade of an all-inclusive, welcoming community; a fragile edifice pitched during a time when racism, segregation, and housing district redlining were still running rampant. Suburbicon attempts to tackle these romantic anachronisms of the mid-20th century to reveal the violent torrent of racism and paranoia that lurked underneath, threatening to explode into chaos and social upheaval. Unfortunately, the movie is a god-awful mess that fails to provide any of these topics proper examination.
Suburbicon’s plot, where any narrative can be detected, is ostensibly about Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) and his family following an inept home invasion that left his wife, Rose (Julianne Moore), dead. There is more than meets the eye with Lodge, however, and our protagonist’s sinister scheme is soon unveiled before being poorly explored for the rest of the film. Before this secret is unraveled, the saccharine neighborhood of Suburbicon is threatened when an African-American family buys a house next door. These new neighbors of color are harassed, threatened, and belittled from the moment they move in. The film’s plot reaches its climax with an outburst of mob violence upon the black family’s home as the consequences Lodge’s schemes come back to haunt him.
Suburbicon was originally written by the Coen brothers way back in 1986, only now to be directed by their comedic muse, George Clooney. In addition to its production pedigree, the film boasts an ensemble cast including Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, and Oscar Isaac among others. So it’s quite surprising to see the movie is so horrible. Aside from the African-American family, who barely utter three lines while serving as the film’s plot device, and also Lodge’s son, Nicky, there are no likeable or redeemable characters in the entire movie. The film’s characters are static and don’t grow, change, or learn anything. The exposition is spoon fed to us in the most basic of ways, and the pacing is tedious. The movie tries to be a dark comedy, but it's not funny, then tries to be a thriller, but lacks any tension. Simultaneously, the film attempts to serve as a treatise on racism while also featuring heavy-handed, cartoonish stereotypes of bigotry. In a way, it’s kind of remarkable how thoroughly the film screws everything up.
Suburbicon swings for the fences and misses badly. The film’s grandiose ambitions end up being too much for Clooney to handle, and the film crashes and burns hard. Perhaps if the Coen brothers had directed their own script, the film could have been properly adapted. As it stands now, the film is a remarkable waste of talent that struggles to examine the veneer of the wholesome family values noted of the 1950s, positioning itself as an allegory for today’s political climate. It’s a boring disaster with unlikable characters and a glacially slow plot. When the ending finally came I was relieved that the movie was over and that’s never a good sign.
TLDR: Suburbicon is a terrible disappointment given the level of star talent involved. A boring, tedious, quagmire that tries to do too much and fails miserably. 1/5 Stars.