Full disclosure: I’d had an annoying day of travel before seeing the movie.
My flight was delayed, there was bad traffic from the airport, my elevator inexplicably stopped on every floor – by the time I sat down in the theater, I was feeling pretty worn out.
On the upside, I’d eaten a copious amount of stir fry and had a nice glass of wine. And my expectations for the film were high, given the cast, director and history of the script.
FOOD/DRINK BEFORE SCREENING: chicken stir fry and a glass of wine
MOOD: worn out
EXPECTATION OF MOVIE: high
Suburbicon began with a script the Coen Brothers first wrote decades ago. George Clooney decided to merge it with a real event from 1957, when a black family was harassed and attacked by their white neighbors in a master-planned community.
The result is a dark comedy, set in the 1950’s, in a seemingly idyllic town. A white family is doing despicable things in their own home, but no one seems to notice because they’re too busy demonizing a black family who’s just moved in on the next block.
It’s meant to be a metaphor for racism in America.
Great concept. Not-so-great execution.
First, let me talk about what worked. The cast is terrific. Matt Damon is a convincingly inept criminal whose buffoonery has a place among the best Coen Brothers characters. Julianne Moore is also creepily luminous as Damon’s wife – and her twin sister. And newcomer Noah Jupe, a child actor, is heartbreaking in his innocence and compliance.
The mid-century sets and props are also beautifully detailed and fun to look at – especially through the lens of Clooney, who has a fantastic eye for shots and composition.
But none of those things can overcome the film’s fatal flaws: bad pacing, a lack of tone, and a fundamentally disjointed parallel between the white and black families.
Additionally, the black characters are never developed. Aside from occasionally seeing the mother be strong and resolute, and watching her son play with Jupe’s character, audiences don’t get to know them at all. At best, they’re symbols of oppression – at worst, they’re props. Maybe the idea was to illustrate that no one in the master-planned community got to know them, either? Whatever the thinking, it doesn’t work.
I also have to say, the scenes of white mobs rioting in front of the black family’s home were eerily similar to events that have transpired in real life this past year – namely, in Charlottesville. I found it harder to watch them, in a way - because even though the images are critically important, they felt too important for this movie.
Suburbicon works best when it functions like a classic Coen Brothers movie – with a bumbling criminal, silly mayhem, and shocking violence balanced by hilarious exchanges. Trying to juxtapose that storyline with a serious, horrifying part of American history may have been too ambitious. The end result feels like two movies that never really blend.
Would my reaction to Suburbicon would be different if real life were different in 2017? Maybe.
My reaction may also have been different if I’d had an easier travel day.
But my honest reaction was one of disappointment.
Suburbicon is a movie made with the best of intentions and messages that comes up short.
I’ll keep my fingers crossed for a good director’s cut, and a world where the imagery isn’t so painfully familiar.
WHAT IS “HONEST REVIEW”?
I’m a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. I interview actors and filmmakers. I’ve worked in broadcast television for 20 years.
I’m also a Seattle wife and mom who works full-time and sits in an hour of traffic (minimum) every day.
Sometimes I’m tired when I screen a movie. Sometimes I’m traveling and I miss my kids. Sometimes I’ve had a glass wine when I should have had a glass of water.
All of these things can impact my reaction to a film. Because I’m human.
So in an effort to write an Honest Review, I’ll always list the external factors that might affect my enjoyment of the movie. Then, I’ll give you my review. Then, you can decide if it’s useful or not.