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FILM REVIEW: Suburbicon

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FILM: Suburbicon

DIRECTOR: George Clooney

YEAR: 2017

SYNOPSIS: Suburbicon is a peaceful, idyllic, suburban community with affordable homes and manicured lawns — the perfect place to raise a family, and in the summer of 1959, the Lodge family is doing just that. But the tranquil surface masks a disturbing reality, as husband and father Gardner Lodge must navigate the town’s dark underbelly of betrayal, deceit and violence.


The Black Comedy That’s Neither Dark Nor Funny Enough

Review by Melissa Lee.

It’s hard not to go into Suburbicon with certain expectations. After all, not only is George Clooney a two-time Oscar winner, but his directorial achievements in The Ides of March (2011) and Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005) were nothing to sneeze at either. With Clooney at the helm, and a cast led by Clooney’s longtime collaborator Matt Damon and the always poised Julianne Moore, one assumes it would be safe to expect a cinematic treat.

Unfortunately, Suburbicon fails to deliver on almost every count.

While the first ten or so minutes are a respectably solid introduction to the picture perfect, lawn sprinkler, white-bread world of the fictional town of Suburbicon, the rest of the film quickly deteriorates into something half-hearted and limp — a mere shadow of an idea being presented, rather than a fully formed, fleshed-out narrative.

It’s a shame that while Clooney seems to meander apathetically behind the camera, his cast appears to follow his lead in front of it. One can practically feel Julianne Moore trying as hard as possible, but ultimately, her character(s — she plays two sisters) isn’t written with nearly enough depth as she valiantly tries to muster. The two antagonists of the film are mildly concerning at best, and I found myself wondering who to blame for the fact that Glenn Fleshler and Alex Hassell weren’t fully utilised to the heights of their villainous potential.

Perhaps the most confusing part of Suburbicon is that as much as you can see how hard it’s trying, the places where it appears to consciously give up altogether are just as evident. The perspective of the Lodge family’s youngest, Nicky (Noah Jupe), is easily the most interesting one, given the film’s use of blissfully ignorant, simplistic small-town life as its narrative foundation. Yet, for some inexplicable reason, director Clooney fails to grab hold of that with both hands, choosing instead to spend far too much time in the head of Nicky’s rigid, flatly uninteresting father, Gardner (Matt Damon).

Twelve-year- old Jupe acts circles around his on-screen father Damon, who seems to have forgotten every lesson on nuance he’s ever learned and opted instead to do his best imitation of a piece of cardboard. Next to Jupe’s wonderful work with body language and movement, Damon’s wooden performance falls even flatter. (Going on a brief tangent here to say that I’m now really looking forward to watching Jupe in the film adaptation of Stephen Chbosky’s Wonder, slated to hit local theatres later this year.)

The most affecting storyline in the film is that of a black family moving into the all-white neighbourhood of Suburbicon. Eventually, even that plotline fails to reach any sort of real climax or resolution, and it’s one of the biggest letdowns of the film, considering the subplot’s potential to make important commentary on racial tensions in the U.S. today.

Indeed, the only shining light in the film is Oscar Isaac’s magnetic performance as claims investigator Bud Cooper. Isaac swaggers about in tan-suited, moustached glory, and truth be told, seems to be only one on set with a firm grasp on what he’s doing. He delivers to the best of his smooth-talking ability, but the overall screen-time allotted to him is lamentably short. Still, with every moment Isaac is on screen, the entire film seems to lift with him — even if it’s only for a moment.

Frustratingly enough, one can’t help but think Suburbicon could have been a good film. Thanks to lacklustre direction and equally dispassionate performances, Suburbicon almost feels like a first draft of the film that was supposed to eventually become Suburbicon. As a whole, the film just isn’t enough — not thrilling enough to be a thriller, and not darkly funny enough to be a satisfying black comedy.


ABOUT THE WRITER

Melissa Lee is a communication graduate with an enduring interest in film and TV and a deeper, more concerning interest for the Wikipedia and IMDB Trivia pages that accompany them. Her spare time is usually spent in a movie theatre or in front of a TV/computer with Netflix going at full speed. She also likes to think she’s an avid reader, but, alas, moving pictures on a bright screen are far more engaging for those individuals blessed with the attention span of a five-year-old, such as herself.
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