‘Suburbicon’ Review

Projection, defined


This review contains spoilers for Suburbicon because the trailers for Suburbicon give away virtually the entirety of the plot and if the marketers don't respect the movie enough to keep you in suspense I'm not sure why I should either.

I was confused for a moment when, flashing randomly in my Twitter feed, George Clooney and Matt Damon appeared to be sitting together to discuss what they did or did not know about Harvey Weinstein, acclaimed super-producer and accused super-predator. After a few seconds, I remembered that the two of them have a movie coming out: the Clooney-directed, Damon-starring Suburbicon.

Upon recollecting that fact I felt a wave of pity—well, no, not pity, not really; more like gleeful schadenfreude—when I imagined how, well, awkward it must be to be on the road promoting a clunky, unfunny, moralizing film about the insidious, dark underbelly of the American suburbs while giant, relentless waves of news about sexual harassment and sexual assault are roiling your hometown and engulfing your colleagues and destroying careers and forcing you to awkwardly mumble about how you had no idea none whatsoever nosiree bob that one of the biggest names in your biz was out there waving his dick at every woman within a twenty-foot radius.

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Then again, it may actually be more fun to mumble about Harvey than shill for Suburbicon, a rather dreadful black comedy that never manages to be funny enough to justify its ham-handed social commentary.

Gardner Lodge (Damon, who won an Oscar for writing Good Will Hunting, on which Harvey Weinstein was an executive producer) is in hock with the mob and, for the insurance money that will get him free and clear, allows a pair of thumb breakers to kill his wife (Julianne Moore, who starred in The Shipping News, on which Harvey Weinstein was an executive producer). Mrs. Lodge's sister, Margaret (also Moore), moves in because Gardner's boy, Nicky (Noah Jupe), needs a mom. And Margaret is more than happy to fill in in more ways than one; at one point, Nicky sees her getting it on with Dad while he spanks her with a Ping-Pong paddle.

Because Ping-Pong—that ubiquitous table in the Levittown basement, amusing the kiddos—is a symbol of the suburbs, you see. And Suburbicon is most interested in laying out all the ways in which the hinterlands are rotten just below the surface. The goofy grins Clooney (whose directorial debut, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, was executive-produced by Harvey Weinstein) slaps on his extras hide a darkness within, a cancer just below the surface contaminating everyone who lives on suburbia's sun-dappled streets. A darkness quickly sniffed out by insurance investigator Roger (Oscar Isaac, who starred in the much-loathed W.E., which Harvey Weinstein executive produced).

Isaac is the only bright spot in this otherwise-horrid film; his natural effervescence and slightly oily charisma breaks through whatever it is that Clooney is doing to his actors to coax such dishwater dull performances out of them. Directed from a script originally written by the Coen Brothers (who co-executive-produced Bad Santa with Harvey Weinstein) and given a touchup by Clooney and frequent writing partner Grant Heslov (a producer on the Oscar-nominated August: Osage County, which was executive produced by Harvey Weinstein), Suburbicon is to a Coen Brothers film as the botched touchup of Ecce Homo is to Elias Garcia Martinez's original. It's fuzzy and grotesque, a shoddy parody of the masterpiece it's meant to imitate.

It's hard to say exactly what went wrong; I'm tempted to pin the blame on a combination of Clooney's uninspired framing—the Coens have a way with putting faces in view that seem correct yet absurd—and an editing job that isn't quite snappy enough to drive home the humor. Or maybe it's the clumsy racial commentary Clooney and company shoehorn into the proceedings to drive home the point of suburbia's wickedness.

In the spoiler warning, I noted that the trailers give away virtually every plot point. And that's true, they do. But what they don't reveal is the film's opening setup, which takes us on a tour of Suburbicon, a planned community with an extremely diverse group of citizens: white families from New York and white families from Ohio and white families from … well, you get it. You see, it's a joke about diversity: They're not diverse at all, they're all white. They just come from different geographical areas.

Do you get it? Please tell me you get it, the director and writers desperately need to know that YOU GET IT.

Well, things are about to change in Suburbicon because a family of black folks moved in and, boy howdy, these white people Just Won't Stand For That. As the film progresses, an ever-increasing number of protesters surround the house, banging on drums in an attempt to drive the interloping African-Americans out—the growing clamor calling to mind an amateurish, uninspired take on the climax of Darren Aronofsky's mother!—before, at the film's climax, they rush the home and hang a Confederate flag in a broken-out window of the home. While all of the attention of the town is focused on these interlopers with the wrong skin color, literal murders are taking place around the corner.

This stinging commentary about the ways in which racism are used as a smokescreen to distract from deeper, uglier scandals feels tinny in a year that features far more intriguing fare like Get Out and Three Billboards Outside Of Ebbing, Missouri. One cannot doubt Clooney's belief in Hollywood's innate goodness compared with the rest of America, given his Oscar acceptance speech—memorably parodied as a cloud of "smug" by the lads at South Park—during which he praised Hollywood for giving Hattie McDaniel an Oscar in 1940 "when blacks were still sitting in the backs of theaters" at a ceremony in which she was forced to sit at the rear of a Los Angeles nightclub, separated from her Gone with the Wind colleagues, because the hotel in which the ceremony took place was segregated.

Suburbicon, perhaps, is most interesting if you see it as a clear-cut case of projection—a film made by people convinced of their own goodness even while covering up for one of the biggest scumbags on the planet because they believe everyone else is wearing big grins to hide a deeper rot. Viewed through that lens, well, Suburbicon‘s blundering, dimwitted satire all makes a bit more sense, doesn't it?