|Writer(s)||Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, George Clooney and Grant Heslov|
|Release Date||November 24, 2017|
Good question. Suburbicon is a story about a home-invasion and its aftermath… Sounds straightforward enough, but having watched it, I must say it’s a struggle to pin down the film’s genre, its theme, or what the writers are trying to say.
But it has such good credentials!
I know, I’m shocked! The Coen brothers know how to write a good film, and Clooney isn’t exactly a novice at directing anymore. George Clooney has acted in four of the Coen brothers’ films, but this is the first time he has directed a screenplay of theirs. They have scripted a handful of films for other directors which worked out well, so I don’t think collaboration per se is the problem… I’m fairly sure it was the writing. Apparently, Clooney and Heslov reworked a Coen brothers screenplay: damn shame about the result.
But tell us about Suburbicon…
Right, let me start at the beginning…
Suburbicon is set in the late 1950’s, in a city planned and built for people who seemingly want to stay living in the 1950’s; white people, needless to say. They are all so comfortable (and boring) that everyone is secure and there is no crime or stress… And it doesn’t dawn on anyone that non-white people might want to live there too until a black family (Karimah Westbrook, Leigh M Burke and Tony Espinosa) moves in.
Meanwhile, next door to the newcomers, the Lodge family (Matt Damon, Julianne Moore x 2, and Noah Jupe) are enjoying a regular evening at home until two crooks appear, take charge, and knock out the family one by one… Most unusual.
Suburbicon is the name of the city.
Sounds alright… what went wrong?
Well like I mentioned earlier, it’s a bit of a muddle.
The film is trying to say something about race (funny, that didn’t feature in the trailer), but is it simply that racism is bad or something more specific? The contrast between both families in the story is so exaggerated it is almost cartoonish; but I don’t believe this film was the right medium for a racism message: it was done very well in Hidden Figures (period setting) and Get Out (horror satire). And the racism sub-plot was so separate from the crime plot that it’s difficult to see why it featured in this film at all. Was it to show how black neighbors aggravated white people more than murder in the 1950’s? Was it to suggest that’s the case nowadays? In which case, why set it in the 1950’s?
Did this really bug you?
That’s another thing: was it really the 1950’s? I kept expecting some revelation to show that it was set in present day, but people had elected to live in a city with 1950’s style and facilities as part of getting away from the real world; or it was so stylized because of some Truman Show style explanation. But there was barely a glance at the world outside Suburbicon. I have no idea why the story was set in 1959.
And is Suburbicon a “Crime, Drama, Mystery”, as per IMDb, or a black comedy like some of the more positive reviewers have described? After a slightly comedic opening the plot starts off pretty cold and tense, with unpleasant introductions to both families; but then the tone meanders between tense and farcical, and veers into tragic at times.
And – yes, another “and” – what’s it about? Is it about families, “the American dream”, the innocence of children, or about the risk of being caught out?
Oh, and one of the rare likable characters had a strangely unexplained end…
Suburbicon did have some good points, didn’t it?
Oh yes, sure! Some of the minor cast really shone, especially Oscar Isaac (insurance investigator) and Karimah Westbrook (stoic, oppressed neighbor). The children played their parts perfectly too.
Suburbicon was entertaining, though; and grabbed me just enough that I kept expecting those issues to be resolved. I felt it was taking me towards some satisfying conclusion, but I’m sorry to say it did not.
Some of it was classic Coen brothers (the fallible protagonist, as in Raising Arizona, and the caricature bad guys), the filming was beautiful and the set-dressing sharp, but none of this made up for the problems I’ve outlined above.
Watch the film if you really want to see what the fuss is about; but if it is Coen brothers’ completeness you’re after, I’m afraid it’s not worth the trouble.
But my main recommendation is to stick with films the Coen brothers had full ownership of.
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Alix has been writing for Ready Steady Cut since November 2017. They cover a wide variety, including genre festivals, and especially appreciates wit and representation on screen.