It’s frustrating to watch someone or something you know that has the potential to be stellar falter under the stress of itself. You see it a lot in American television where they milk as much out of a series until it is nothing but a withering husk. Other times there are actors who you know are great but have seemingly just phoned it in for a movie, bringing everyone else down with them.
Unfortunately, Suburbicon is one of those disappointing movies. There are glimpses of greatness never developed or allowed to shine through, and ultimately, I’m left with a giant question of “what if?” On the great report card of life, Surburbicon would get a “not living up to potential.”
Director: George Clooney
Release Date: October 27, 2017
Suburbicon has been around for decades, starting off as a script written in the late 80’s by Joel and Ethan Coen, it has meandered around in development hell for as long as I can remember; being a fan of the Coens and their work. It’s also been rumored George Clooney wanted to direct it for years, but was never able to make the script come together. So how does he make the final product a reality? He and longtime collaborator, Grant Heslov, shove some social commentary about racism in America to pad out the needed time.
It’s not that we don’t live in an era needing social commentary, it’s that the execution was just so poor it almost does more harm than good. Clooney and Heslov try to make a point by just throwing a dead fish on the floor, and expecting it to be a Big Mouth Billy Bass. This well-needed commentary is given so little screentime, all of the dialogue feels hurried and blunt to the point where I can feel the copy and paste function in the script.
Suburbicon takes place in a private post-war community that could be labeled as dystopian if it weren’t based on real life communities in America’s history. Right from the beginning the audience is beat over the head with the fact that the Mayers, the new Black family, are not welcome by the other white residents. The very few scenes that follow involving the Mayers all feel empty and come to no real conclusion. There is a potential there for the classic theme of “appearance versus reality” to be used in a great, modern sense, but is never allowed to expand into its greatest potential.
Meanwhile, literally across the Mayers backyard, lies the seemingly idyllic Lodge family toiling about in daily family life. It is a bit confusing at first to see Julianne Moore playing two different characters, but when the families’ life is upended by a home invasion seemingly gone wrong, the pieces start to fall into place. While the Lodge family members all feel real, the dynamic existing between them never feels authentic. Despite the fact that the Lodge’s are given the majority of the screentime, their little family never truly comes together.
Suburbicon‘s first act feels completely different than the far more cohesive and organized second act. Unfortunately by that point, the seeds of confusion are already growing into little question mark saplings. What follows is your usual Coen brothers theater of the common man as ordinary American caricatures are caught in extraordinary situations. There are rare moments of dark comedy mostly falling flat, but only because they’re like another layer on an already toppling layer cake. The second and third act are mostly enjoyable because it takes from the original Coen idea, but the limp mass of the first act still hangs in the mind.
Some of the positives I can glean from Suburbicon are that Julianne Moore and Oscar Isaac are still treasures of the film industry. Unfortunately, Moore can only be as good as the script she is working with, and as for Isaac, well there is never enough screentime for him when it comes to me. We are also treated to yet another chilling performance by Glenn Fleshler, who I’m still waiting for the perfect anti-hero story to come along and give him his due spotlight. It is also nice to see some of the Coen’s classic narrative themes of morally grey characters getting punished as though by a higher power come back up.
When it all boils down, Suburbicon feels like an unfinished mashup of two scripts that wouldn’t be able to stand on their own feet without the support of each other. I only wish the Mayer’s screentime was expanded to a point where maybe even the father could have gotten a single line of dialogue.
Seriously, how about his name? A line about how they are overlooking a crime happening just one house over? Or even, “Hi, how are ya?” The most frustrating thing about Surburbicon is it’s so incredibly short. Even as little as 15 minutes of added screentime for the Mayer’s could have improved the cohesiveness of it so much more. Instead we are left with what could have been.