Twelve years after a planned community was founded in 1947, its first black family moves in, their back yard abutting the Lodges'. Wheelchair bound Rose Lodge (Julianne Moore) encourages her son, Nicky (Noah Jupe, TV's 'The Night Manager') to go play baseball with Andy Meyers (Tony Espinosa, "The Birth of a Nation"), but by the next day Rose will be dead and the Meyers family will be dealing with a racial riot in "Suburbicon."
Just how did director George Clooney and his cowriter Grant Heslov, the team behind "Good Night, and Good Luck.," go so disastrously wrong? Originally setting out to make a film about Levittown, whose first black family experienced what the Meyers do here, Clooney remembered an old Coen Brothers' script from the late '90's, a black comedy about people making bad decisions with bad results, and decided to merge the two ideas. Perhaps the Coens might have been able to make something of this, but Clooney's film telegraphs everything with a beacon, eschews basic logic and didn't elicit a single smile, let alone laugh. The best that can be said about "Suburbicon" is that it sports some cool vintage wallpaper.
The treatment of the Meyers family is actually the most interesting part of this story, but it's relegated to a backdrop, the 'ugly on the outside' contrast to the ugliness going on within the Coens' Lodge household where Rose's twin sister Margaret (also Moore) has moved in to help out. Nicky is woken late that night by his father, Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon), telling him 'There are men in the house,' and to come downstairs. Rose and Margaret are seated at the kitchen table being terrorized by Sloan (Glenn Fleshler, "A Most Violent Year") and Louis (Alex Hassell, "Anonymous"), who turn their attentions to Gardner, taunting him by making him serve them drinks 'on a tray.' The robbers tie everyone up and begin to knock each out with chloroform. As Nicky goes under, he witnesses his mother being given a second, more powerful dose.
When he awakens, he's immediately told by his dad and aunt that they have very bad news. At his mom's funeral, his maternal Uncle Mitch (Gary Basaraba, "The Accountant") asks 'Who loves you like a son?' 'My dad,' he answers, a bit annoyed by his uncle's smothering affection. The next time Mitch asks him that question, his answer will be different.
There are maybe two scenes that work here. Nicky investigating the cause of Aunt Margaret's yelps from the basement ends with an amusing perspective on fifties' kink. A police lineup conducted by Officer Hightower (Jack Conley, "L.A. Confidential") is tense but unrewarding. But the fact that Aruba is a Dutch protectorate isn't as funny as Clooney seems to think it is, nor is child endangerment, at least the way it's handled here. Oscar Isaac shows up as an insurance inspector who's dangerously underestimated the stupidity of his clients. A large container of lye on a kitchen counter signals poisoning ahead, yet its effects are radically different in two different scenes. And although Karimah Westbrook ("The Rum Diary") portrays Mrs. Meyers with great dignity under horrendous circumstances, the filmmakers would have us believe she's never gone shopping at the local Kargers until well into their timeline.
Clooney showed promise with his first film, "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," then took a huge leap forward with his second. Since then we've gotten the so-so "Leatherheads," the OK "The Ides of March" and forgettable "The Monuments Men." With "Suburbicon" there's not much lower he can go, the film not only unlikable but boring. Nostalgic period production design, art direction, costuming and an Alexandre Desplat score can only take one so far.
Robin did not see this film.
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