The Coen Brothers are, rightfully, considered among the best filmmakers working today. George Clooney is a frequent collaborator with them in front of the camera. With Suburbicon, Clooney takes one of their old, unfilmed scripts, adds some bits of his own, and then releases it to the world.
That’s the best description I can come up with for how this movie came to be.
Suburbicon is a very confused movie. The original Coen script is there with additional material provider by director Clooney and co-writer Grant Heslov. It’s somewhat obvious what’s been added, and it’s a subplot/background thing that doesn’t fit well with the dark screwball material of the main plot.
The main plot deals with a typical family in the growing town of Sububicon (state unmentioned). Father Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) is dealing with the sudden murder of his wife Rose (Julianne Moore). Rose, a paraplegic, died as the result of a home invasion, and afterwards her mostly identical twin sister Maggie (also Moore) moves in to provide maternal care for Rose and Gardner’s young son Nicky (Noah Jupe). But there’s more going on that what the audience initially sees, and with Nicky acting as the movie’s focus, it gradually comes out what actually happens. Quite frankly, the story seems to work as something of a dry run for Fargo and some of the other, pitch black, dark comedies that the Coens have produced over the years.
But then there’s the other plot, a rather straightforward, unsubtle story of race relations that occurs when the first black family, the Mayers, moves in next door to the Lodges. This plot apparently is based off the actual story of a black family moving into the town of Levittown, PA, once upon a time, but the plot doesn’t really match the other one in tone or material. It seems to serve mostly as a mouthpiece for the movie’s vocal liberal director to comment on current events as the neighbors go out of their way to harass the innocent Mayers family. There’s a Confederate flag, and yes, the residents demand a tall fence be built around their property but don’t want to pay for it. Like I said, it’s not subtle.
Clooney also doesn’t really have a good feel for the screwball material, though few directors outside the Coens do these days. Damon, for example, doesn’t give a bad performance per se, but he hardly comes across as a seemingly helpless, doughty suburbanite. In fact, he’s clearly in better shape than the two actors whose characters break into his house and kill his wife. Still, he fits better here than he did in The Great Wall. Likewise, the tonal shifts between the race relations material and the dark comedy don’t fit well, reminding me of other confused movies from this year like Baywatch and King Arthur, where the movie couldn’t seem to make up its metaphorical mind as to what kind of movie it wanted to be. The result is dull and disappointing. Five out of ten moments of Matt Damon riding a bike that is clearly too small for him.