A Beaver Clever-era, suburbia-set take on the Fargo formula, Suburbicon manages to tack onto its strange plot plagiarism a tone deaf racial integration backdrop and a slew of characters unable to pass as either likable or interesting. It’s an oddly comfortless misfire from director George Clooney, one that seems promising on paper but never is able to click once the tape starts rolling. Snooze-inducing if stylish, Suburbicon takes a host of talent in front of and behind the camera and squanders it in on an effort that, while never outright stupid, is almost unbearably not as smart, clever or funny as it seems to think it is.
Matt Damon is Gardner Lodge, an Aruba-infatuated patriarch whose wife has just been murdered in a home invasion gone terribly wrong. Thankfully his wife’s identical twin sister Margaret (Julianne Moore) is still around and more than willing to help “raise” his son Nicky (Noah Jupe), an undercooked chicken tender of a child. Together they live in what was formerly a quiet community, 60,000 merrily people stuffed into a self-sustaining 50’s suburban bliss, but since the harmless but African American Meyers moved next door, their white anglo Episcopalian paradise has spiraled out of control.
You might think the two stories – that of a murder most foul and racist AF townsfolk going haywire over the arrival of neighbors with alternative pigmentation – coalesce in meaningful ways. They do not. In fact, any and all cross over between the two stories – one a dark throwback satire, the other a self-congratulatory but totally toothless racial jack-in-the-box – proves neck-breakingly jarring in terms of tone and momentum. As the two become increasingly tied together, Suburbicon spirals increasingly out of control.
Without this feckless integration subplot, Suburbicon might not have been as offensively bad as it ultimately is. To its credit, the main plot, while an oddly on-its-face rip-off of much of Fargo, is at least a much more holistic and borderline fun little oddball distraction, if unnecessary and copycat in nature. With it, the whole thing is a hot, steaming mess, the pseudo-button-pushing going on both annoying, stupid and useless as testicles on a pick-up truck. I’m unsure exactly how to classify this kind of failure other than by calling it simply that: a failure. Period.
I continue to mention Fargo and the many parallels Suburbicon and that lauded Coen Brothers’ masterpiece share so it’s probably worth stopping to mention that THE ACTUAL COEN BROS earn screenwriting credit for Suburbicon. Now I’m not entirely convinced that they didn’t just huck their Fargo screenplay to co-writers Grant Heslov (Good Night, and Good Luck) and G. Clooney with all the Jerry Lundegaard parts highlighted and told them they wouldn’t press charges if the team lifted pretty much his entire arc. With substantial plots straight-up seized from the film, Suburbicon feels like a discordant attempt to translate a foreign film for American audiences, a bad translation or poor lip reading of Fargo for a broader, more dumbed-down audience. The mysteries of how this version of the film ever got made more mysterious and fascinating than anything in the actual film.
The Coen’s inclusion in the making of Suburbicon at all is strange in an indecipherable way – like if Stanley Kubrick penned the 1997 direct-to-TV Shining mini-series after making the real article in 1980 – but there are some throwaway germs that scream of their distinct penmanship plopped haphazardly throughout the narrative. Take Oscar Isaac’s wily insurance claims investigator Roger, who slinks in as if off an entirely different (and entirely better) movie set. He’s great for his short time on screen, showing the promise and pizzaz of what Suburbicon could have been if handled properly, but he is but a flash in the pan.
Rather, we’re left with the table scraps that is Suburbicon, a confusing, preposterous fuddy-duddy of a film. Even Alexandre Desplat’s score is a busy, overbearing mess, congruently lacking one lick of subtlety or restraint. Sloppy and horribly edited, Suburbicon flounders even with a cast punching above its weight class and the kind of slick, handsome production design that has characterized Clooney’s prior efforts. The superstar-turned-director clearly displays a fascination with the Golden Era of America but, if Suburbicon and Monument’s Men before it are any indication, his Golden Era of filmmaking already seem behind him. To anyone still considering this disconcerting miscarriage of a movie, good night, and good luck.
CONCLUSION: An embarrassing Coens-inspired trainwreck, ‘Suburicon’ tries to be a dark, murder-filled satire on the “wholesome” 50’s but the saliency of an undercooked and discordant racial integration subplot derails George Clooney’s film in fascinating, aggravating ways. Managing to miss the point in a remarkable manner, this familiar misfire speaks to Clooney’s rapidly deteriorating career behind the camera.