George Clooney is one of the most talented men in Hollywood. He is a great writer, director, and actor. The Coen Brothers are some of the most talented writers and directors in the world. Matt Damon is a fantastic actor. Which is why ‘Suburbicon’ is provably the biggest disappointment of 2017!
The premise of the film is actually more interesting than it lets on. You see, there are two narratives running through this story. One is the story of a black family moving into suburbia during the 1950’s and the persecution they face during integration. The other is a tale of a white family man who’s wife dies and then lots of other violence ensues. Matt Damon plays the white man (who has a name, but race is actually more important here) who loses his wife. I can’t give much more away in the story, but let’s just say there is something shady going on. Julianne Moore also has duel roles as the wife and here sister.
The glue that connects the two stories is the children from each family. The two boys embrace over an initially forced play date, but they develop a much needed friendship during the trying times. The juxtaposition of these two stories is intended to show the audience an example of what 1950’s America really was. It’s suppose to place the selfish nature of the over privileged white family over the struggle of the integrating black family and the kids are the example of the better future. In a time where the Trump’s of the world are trying to take us back to the 1950’s, this is a really smart lesson.
The problem is that the execution is messy. The story of the black family is short changed at every turn. The main plot line is treated as a dark comedy that doesn’t land many laughs. And the tonal shift is jarring enough that the audience is likely to be confused as to what they are supposed to feel. Which works as a distraction from the bigger point that Clooney seems to be trying to get across.
Honestly, it seems like the biggest problem boils down to these filmmakers styles. Clooney’s seems to be consistently out of his element with comedic filmmaking (Leatherheads, The Monuments Men) and the Coen Brothers dark comedy is flattened by the straightforward nature that Clooney directs this movie in. The whole thing is just a conflict of approach to a story that needed to be deeper and spend more time with the Black half of the tale. Which is too bad, because this tale is an important reminder of where we’ve been and why we don’t want to go back there.