First Hit: A poorly conceived attempt to be relevant, darkly funny, and mysterious.
I generally like films written by Joel and Ethan Coen. I've previously enjoyed films directed by George Clooney. Actors Matt Damon and Julianne Moore always make roles better than they are written so I was looking forward to seeing this film. However, the mixture of this group didn’t resonate as something valid or comprehensive.
There were out-loud funny moments in a dark humor sort of way, but most of the time, the lack of information to string the film together had me a bit flummoxed.
Based in 1959, planned clean beautiful communities were sprouting up all over the United States. In Suburbicon there are two major stories. One, is about a black family moving into this all white neighborhood and how they are treated. Horribly is the answer to this part of the film. The second is how does Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) respond to being pressured to repay an outstanding loan? Not very well.
The set up to the neighborhood of Suburbicon is that this is an upcoming proactive modern community that allows everyone to be prosperous. Everyone can live there, unless you have a different skin color. That's what Mr. and Mrs. Myers (Leith M. Burke and Karimah Westbrook respectively) quickly find out. Each night neighbors gather around their home and shout racist epithets at the home. Each night, the crowd gets larger. And the Myers simply, elegantly, and clearly ignore the rants.
In a symbolic scene in the grocery store, the store manager stands behind the checker and tells Mrs. Myers that each item she wants to buy is $20.00, is pointedly outrageous; “bread? $20.00, Milk? $20.00.” Instead of raising her voice and acting out, with a smile on her face, she leaves the store to go shop somewhere else.
The upside of this aspect of the story is that the Myers' son Andy (Tony Espinosa) strikes up a great friendship with Nicky (Noah Jupe) who is Gardner and his wife Rose’s (Julianne Moore) son. They ride bikes together and play catch with a baseball together. Both boys are surviving their own private hell.
Gardner’s story is more elusive in that we don’t know why he’s in debt. We are introduced to him and his wife Rose, who is in a wheelchair, as they are being shaken down in their house by loan enforcers. His wife dies from the incident but we later learn that Gardner may have something to do with the death, just like he had something to do with her being in a wheelchair. Margaret (also Julianne Moore), who is Rose's twin sister is visiting them and helping to manage their household.
The way Gardner deals with the death of his wife, the inclusion of his wife's sister into the household, the moralistic and societal way he tells his son that he’s too young to understand what is going on in the family and the world, and how the violence is used to resolve his issues, just didn’t work well. There were too many unanswered questions nor was there a clear plot line.
There seemed to be an element of this film that was trying to be cutesy while also being edgy and it just didn’t work. Many of the sets were nice to see as they reminded me of growing up in that time period. I didn’t think the two major stories were integrated very well and certainly weren't well matched to make it work holistically.
Damon was OK and it wasn’t his acting that failed, it was mostly the script and Clooney’s poor direction of the poorly conceived script. Moore was OK in both roles and I thought the best part was her being interviewed by the insurance investigator. Westbrook was probably brought the best acting to the film. She embodied the role of smiling through the racist actions against her and her family. Jupe did a really good job as the son trying to figure out why his mom is gone, his dad is fighting people, and his aunt Margaret is living with them. Espinosa was very good as the neighbor kid who was attempting to put the racism behind him and just be a young kid. The Coen’s script had some bones but it wasn’t a good final product. Clooney just didn’t have a handle on a unifying theme and objective point to this film.
Overall: Not worth the time to see it.