What Happened Here??
What happened here? What is this travesty? Hang on. Let me rattle off the names of the people involved with this travesty. George Clooney. Matt Damon. Julianne Moore. Oscar Isaac. The great composer Alexandre Desplat. Last, but not least.... JOEL AND ETHAN COEN. How did this happen? Please, explain. I'll wait............ This is a complete train wreck. An absolute dumpster fire that is trying to do too much. What is the purpose of this film? Is it a whodunit? I hope not, because don't worry! You'll figure out the "whodunit" of this tale about 20 minutes into the film. Is it a statement about the inequality in our past social and racial structures and how those inequalities are still relevant today? If so, then why does that story line feel like it is just tacked on as a mere afterthought, with each cut to the Mayers family (which this story line is based around) feeling extremely jarring and out-of-place? The foundation of this film's problems lies in the fact that it's trying to do too much. As a result, it doesn't do anything well and creates an extremely messy and unorganized film.
Let's start by talking about the good of this film. Even though there isn't much. First off, the production design. The production design in this film is good. There was a good amount of care that went into crafting the sets of this film, and it does a pretty good job of capturing 1950's suburbia. This is about the only thing director George Clooney really nailed. Also, Oscar Isaac steals the show as far as the acting is concerned. (In fact, he's the only good thing about the acting in this movie) He is having a blast as the insurance agent, and he shines despite his extremely limited screen time. He's only in this 104-minute film for about 10 minutes, but he provided some much-needed relief because by the time he shows up I had already figured out that this is a bad film. I think he realized this was a bad movie too, because he is screen chewing to the max in his brief role. (And I love it) Finally, the first 5ish minutes of the film are amazing! The initial satire on past (and present) racial biases was on point. The film opens with your very stereotypical 1950's-esque mailman delivering the day's mail to suburbia (it's either a mailman or a milkman, right?) and when he gets to the new neighbors that just moved in, the Mayers, he's shocked and dismayed to discover they are black. After the entire block loses their mind over this fact, we cut to the best scene of the entire film in which an angry room of townspeople complain over the city council's attempt to integrate a family of color into their community. A lot of racial tropes we still see today are used, and for the first few minutes of the film we have a very sharp and smart commentary about racial and social structures both past and present. Unfortunately....the film has an abrupt cut from this story line to go downhill with its main story, a whodunit you figure out almost immediately.
Aaaaaaand this is where the problems for Suburbicon begin. To say the main story line isn't interesting is something of an understatement. Keep in mind.... when I go to a whodunit film, I usually try not figure out the story before it happens on the screen. I find spending time on the actual "who did it" to be distracting, and I like to be surprised at the end when the curtain is pulled back. However, Suburbicon's whodunit story line is so blatantly obvious I managed to figure it out very quickly, without actually spending any energy to try and figure it out. This film is depressingly predictable. I immediately figured out where this film was going, and hey! It didn't stray from where I was expecting it to go AT ALL. The film also tries to tell its main story from a child's perspective, similar to The Florida Project, which also just came out recently. (I also just reviewed this MASSIVELY superior film last week....you can check that out here) All Suburbicon did in this storytelling aspect was remind me just how great a film The Florida Project was, because boy does this film fail miserably here. The kid, Nicky, (played by Noah Jupe) is exposed to some of the most terrible sights a kid could possibly be exposed to. The things he sees should scar him for life. But does the film even bother to acknowledge this? NOPE. He's fine he'll brush off watching people literally die in front of him no problem! (among other things) I mean....my God, George Clooney/Joel and Ethan Coen. Y'all wrote this pile of garbage. If you're going to try and tell this story from the perspective of the kid, you need to acknowledge how these extraordinarily traumatic events are affecting him! Oh, my bad, I forgot he puts a piece of wood in front of his door to keep the bad guys out. Ya! Nailed it! Additionally, this whodunit story line doesn't mesh with the Mayers systemic racism story line at ALL. They are not even remotely related, and the only way they even connect with one another is when Nicky has a few conversations with the Mayers kid, Andy. (Played by Tony Espinosa) But these conversations feel tacked on out of place. They seem like they're only there because Clooney/the Coens figured out these two story lines didn't mesh together, so they added some dialogue between the kids to "patch it up." Not to mention the ending, which is......just awful. Minus the part where that meant it was actually over.
I haven't really mentioned acting beyond Oscar Isaac, but that's because everyone else is pretty bland in this film. And that's saying something when your leads are Matt Damon and Julianne Moore, but that's exactly what they were! Bland. Finally, the score does nothing to add to this film. This happens a lot in film nowadays, (I mean just look at every Marvel movie ever) but it's not supposed to happen when the great Alexandre Desplat is scoring your film. I was shocked and depressed to discover he was the composer for this movie. A man with a staggering 8 Oscar nominations since 2007 (and 1 win) is not supposed to compose a score this forgettable, however that's exactly what Suburbicon's score is. Honestly, this entire movie can be boiled down to 1 word: messy. This film is messy, unorganized, out of place, and without an identity. (I guess that's more than 1 word) There is no doubt there are some great people involved with this movie. They have made great films in the past, and there's no doubt they will do so again. But this is the very definition of a misfire. A misfire that no one should have to see. Tear it down and start again.
The Critique: A train wreck of a film, Suburbicon tries to do too much with its story and thus fails with all of it thanks to a messy and unorganized structure.
The Recommendation: You haven't heard this from me in a while, but it's certainly warranted here.... AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE.
The Verdict: 2/10 Garbage