In the bosom of Suburbicon, a family-centred, all-white utopia of manicured lawns and friendly locals, a simmering tension is brewing, as the first African-American family moves in the idyllic community, in the hot summer of 1959. However, as the patriarch Gardner Lodge and his family start catching a few disturbing glimpses of the once welcoming neighbourhood's dark underbelly, acts of unprecedented violence paired with a gruesome death will inevitably blemish Suburbicon's picture-perfect facade. Who would have thought that darkness resides even in Paradise?Written by
Nicky grabs the telephone and locks himself in the room. He's disconnected when the cord is pulled out. Later, Mitch uses the phone to try and call the police. See more »
[as story book pages are turned]
Welcome to Suburbicon, a town of great wonder and excitement. Founded in 1947, Suburbicon was built with the promise of prosperity for all. And in only 12 short years, it has grown from a few small homes to a living, breathing community with all the conveniences of the big city without all the noise or the traffic. And now, with nearly 60,000 residents, they enjoy their own schools, a fire department, and a police department. There's a shopping mall....
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At the opening of the film, the movie title is shown on the cover of a book describing life in the town, which becomes animated. See more »
I Ain't Got Nobody
Written by Spencer Williams and Roger Graham
Published by Chester Music Limited trading as Campbell Connelly & Co
Performed by Urbie Green Big Band
Courtesy of MCA Records Inc.
Under license from Universal Music Operations Ltd See more »
nowhere near as bad as you may have heard, but not without problems
Let's get some buts out of the way: Suburbicon is a bit of a Frankenstein's monster of a comic, sincere, horror, revenge-noir-dark insert-word-here sorta racial satire, but it's not as monstrous as one might expect given the reviews. This is clearly the work of two sets of creative teams - Joel and Ethan Coen, and then George Clooney and Grant Heslov - but it's not so stark a difference as to make the Coen's contribution seem so diminutive (as was the case with Unbroken, which still puzzles me how they got a credit on it). What works in the film most feels the most Coens-y, but at the same time we live in a world now where three seasons of Fargo the TV series exist (though with the Coens as exec producers, it's really the brain-child of Noah Hawley) which, while not perfect, delves into that same distinct world of wretched people mixed with some good people in shady-horrible crimes and moral uncertainty. In short, I'm not surprised this didn't do well.
I think part of the problem for me goes to the premise, since it's established but seems a bit unclear: there's this Pleasantville-ish(?) town called Suburbicon in the 1950's (I should think it's after Rosa Parks but I'm also not sure how much actual history goes into play here), where people from all across the country - yes, including Mississippi, though an accent can't be found - and it's as white as the driven snow. So, naturally, when the one black family moves in to town, they make Rock Ridge in Blazing Saddles look rather pleasant and corn-pone. No, somehow many, many white people spend every day/night outside this black family's house and act like there's the second coming of Lucifer (because, you know, there's those things like miscegenation and mixing of the races). Meanwhile, there's an inconsistency early on (not major, but it's there) when little Nicky's mother (or Aunt, they kinda look the same, y'know) tells him to go play catch with the new black boy just across the way since, well, shouldn't that be the last thing she tells him and he finds the boy his own way?
But nevermind - this is where the movie doesn't work, but I get the intention of it, of course I do, since the signs are as bright as Batman's light through your window. Right now the racial tensions in America are exploding again, and I'm sure there's still plenty to mine for satirical purposes (lord knows we got a great dose of it earlier this year with Get Out). But the black family, except for the little boy who, uh, finds a small snake (symbol!) and is pleasant enough, don't have any character to them, and everything with this is presented as metaphor.
It doesn't jibe with the rest of the film, which is dark and comic but still presented as realistic and with characters who are drawn to such a point as we know the Coens are terrific at. Why not make them actual people instead of stand-ins in an allegory? If you strip away the crime plot on its own, it could work much better with some writing - or, better yet, not have the conceit of this town in the first place, which is meant to also have the air of fantasy but... what's the context? *Where* in America *is* this? Pleasantville didn't need to address that, but Suburbicon does (and, to be fair, that may be on the Coens too).
On to the main story, where Damon and Moore (and Moore - again, Fargo just sort of did this last season, but I digress) and son one night get a home invasion, they're chloroformed, and the mother dies. Tragic, and it leads into what one might suspect is coming: Damon and (sister/living, Rose) Moore are scheming to get life insurance money and as for Nicky, well, he might have to be rid of too in some way. The framing at least is right, Clooney knows that much, and since it's primarily from the kid's point of view this works well. I like the Coens dark view of the world, and this may be one of their darkest. That's another thing that may be turning people off, whether it's critics or audiences: even compared to their other work, this is bleak as all get out.
That could be why Clooney and Heslov wanted to tie it into to racial disparity, but maybe it's just too nasty already with its main storyline. America has the air of s***-headedness all around it, with this little boy, his uncle, and I guess the black family as the only decent characters around. It also works though that Clooney gets strong performances, which we'd expect, but Jupe is also a nice find as Nicky - he kind of has to be, as he holds much of the film on his little shoulders, and his arc, however slim it might seem, is there and is satisfying. Extra kudos should go to Oscar Isaac who has two scenes and, as one might expect, steals the show (the trailer made that clear - just a sip of a coffee cup does that).
I think that I actually left Suburbicon with more positive feelings than not based mostly on the fact that the script still has the tightness and drawing-you-in sense that the Coens can do with their dramas and thrillers (not as one of their best, certainly not Ladykillers though), but ultimately there is that weird backdrop that is screaming at you when it shouldn't. Perhaps if the black family and the racial strife had been played realistically, it could have made for a better contrast against the horrible-no-good Gardner household. But who has time for subtlety? I can hear the ghost of Stanley Kramer shouting, "dial it back a notch, fellas!"
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