George Clooney and the Coen Brothers are rockin’ the suburbs in this dark and twisted comedy.
From prim and proper lawns to white picket fences and pastel pinafores, George Clooney’s Suburbicon is drenched in a sugary coating of classic Americana. Like a surreal waking nightmare akin to Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands, this original script penned by Joel and Ethan Coen strips back its glossy sheen to reveal a grisly underbelly of crime, prejudice and deception with wildly mixed results.
Matt Damon plays Gardner, a meek middle management man whose life is thrown into chaos when two burglars break into his sleepy suburban home. His wife (Julianne Moore) and son (Noah Jupe) are caught in the middle of the melee. Meanwhile, next-door, new arrivals in the neighbourhood are ruffling some local feathers and perceived as a threat to the idyllic community.
The glossy cinematography and eccentric 1950s visual design is at least nice to look at in a heightened, hyperreal sense; a cute opening which acts as an advert for the homogenised community sets the tone before the cheeky kinkiness of Damon and Moore’s relationship reveals the true nature of this repressed fantasy. Suburbicon at least succeeds in accurately capturing its setting; it’s the haphazard narrative which causes this star-studded affair to misfire, as it struggles to effectively populate the film with something for audiences to latch onto.
With two vastly different ideas smashed into one, it should come as no surprise that Clooney’s sixth film as director is a mess. On the one side you have a darkly humorous take on the home invasion genre with the Coen Brothers lending their prodigious talent to the script; on the other you have Clooney and frequent collaborator Grant Heslov exploring race relations in 1950s America, also with a surreal and satirical spin.
While both are interesting ideas in their own right, they don’t mesh very well when stacked next to one another. Tonally, Suburbicon is just all over the shop. Is it a serious recount of true events that deals with racism or a twisted murder mystery dripping with sticky murders and chain-smoking gangsters? Pick a lane, Clooney.
The former is certainly apt given the identity crisis currently unfolding across America (Clooney makes a point to have his antagonists unfurl a Confederate flag, hammering home his stance on the matter) and the latter is a gleeful noir that feels at home alongside other Coen Brothers joints like Fargo and Burn After Reading. On their own, it would work; mixed together, it never gels.
It doesn’t help that none of the characters save for one or two minor players are actually likeable; Damon plays a dickbag who deserves all the pain and suffering he gets while Moore is lumped with an odd dual role that dissolves into a quietly psychotic and hysterical housewife. Oscar Isaac’s fleeting contribution adds a certain spark to proceedings, thickening the plot and bringing some crucial laughs. Other than that, it’s slim pickings.
Without a coherent through-line to tie it together, Suburbicon fails to deliver on its initial promise. The dark comedy is hit and miss, the disjointed to and fro of the screenplay never settles on a tone and its talented cast – save for Isaac – is sleepwalking through the swirl of half-baked ideas. Definitely one to skip.
Suburbicon is available in Australian cinemas from October 26
Image courtesy of Road Show Films 2017