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Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017 12:01 am

Avoid the mess that is Suburbicon

Matt Damon as Gardner and Julianne Moore as Margaret in Suburbicon.

 

I have come to realize what many of my friends and relatives have known for years – I’m not the smartest guy in the world. Over the course of my lifetime, more than a few truly stupid things have come out of my mouth, and I’m sure there have been more than a few times when I have committed some sort of faux pas that has caused my family and friends embarrassment and forced them to consider disassociating with me permanently.

All of this went through my mind while watching George Clooney’s Suburbicon as I tried in vain to piece together what this movie was all about. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what the parallel story lines had to do with each other. Surely Clooney, working from a script by the Coen Brothers, had an ace up his sleeve that would tie it all together and make me feel like a dullard for not making the connection myself. These three are very smart; surely they know more than I do about the filmmaking process and would provide the Rosetta Stone that would lead me to enlightenment where Suburbicon was concerned, wouldn’t they?

As it turns out, no such instrument exists. Clooney’s sixth film as a director is a well-intentioned but seriously flawed cat-dog of a movie, one in which a storyline intended to examine a true-life incident of racism was grafted upon a sharp-edged satire of film noirs and the hypocrisy of suburban living. The trains do not meet here, as both tales continue on separate tracks with only the occasional intersection, producing nothing more than confusion, frustration and, finally, apathy in the viewer.

Matt Damon is Gardner, an anonymous corporate manager whose family falls victim to a home invasion that leaves his crippled wife (Julianne Moore) dead and his son (Noah Jupe) traumatized. Hoping to aid in their recovery, Gardner’s sister-in-law Rose (Moore also) moves in and tries her best to bring some normality to the household. While this is all going on, the first African-American family to move into the community of Suburbicon (the Mayers family) does their best to settle in. However, this is proving difficult as they are subjected to all-night protests outside their home that are growing uglier by the minute.

The script by the Coens features Gardner’s story alone, a typical tale for the Coen brothers, as the best-laid plan at its center slowly falls apart. The story of the Mayers was added on by Clooney and his longtime partner Grant Heslov, which is based on a 1957 incident that occurred in Levittown, Pennsylvania. These opposing yarns simply never meld in any meaningful way, and the shift from pointed satire to barbed social commentary is jarring throughout as well. It’s as if two different movies were mixed in the editing room and it was too much trouble to pull them apart so Paramount just released this mess and hoped for the best. Bad move.

Yes, the sons of Gardner and Mayers are seen playing together time and again, and the two are shown engaged in a game of catch across a fence that separates their backyards at the end, which is Clooney’s attempt at a bitterly optimistic ending that the film doesn’t earn or achieve. But these are the only times these two disparate stories meet in this attempt at profundity that falls flat on its face. If you end up waiting for the other shoe to fall where Suburbicon is concerned, you may find yourself with a new appreciation of Waiting for Godot.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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