Dark Comedy 'Suburbicon' Attempts to Debunk American Myths

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Joel and Ethan Coen helped director George Clooney pen the script to his new film, Suburbicon, a quirky dark comedy about how all hell breaks loose in a quiet suburban neighborhood when a couple of cronies go after a seemingly straight-laced family man who owes their boss a ton of cash.

The Coens' quirky sensibilities can’t redeem the film, however, as it covers familiar territory and tries too hard to make a social statement.

It opens area-wide tomorrow.

The film begins innocently enough as its opening scene depicts a typical, serene day in Suburbicon, a nondescript 1950s American town where everyone drives some large shiny new car and lives in a cookie cutter home.

Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon), a suit-and-tie guy who lives in the neighborhood, gets a surprise visit from a couple of thugs one night. They rough up both him and his son Nicky (Noah Jupe) while killing his wife Rose (Julianne Moore). As a result, Noah’s aunt (Moore, again) must take responsibility for raising the child.

Gardner quickly realizes he has to sort things out with the mobster that’s trying to collect an overdue debt. The sudden appearance of a nosy insurance adjuster (Oscar Isaac) who questions whether Rose’s death was just a scheme to collect some life insurance doesn’t bode well for Gardner either. Gardner's seemingly idyllic life quickly unravels.

The original script for the movie dates back to the mid-’80s. Had it been made into a film back then, it would've certainly felt much fresher. As it stands now, it comes off as a lesser Fargo (it’s not better than the 1996 film or the recent TV series based on the film).

While Damon makes for a good misguided man, the character is so clueless and selfish that it becomes hard to root for him as he digs himself deeper and deeper into a hole.

The movie also features a parallel plot involving an African-American family that causes a ruckus by moving into the predominantly white neighborhood. Their presence alone causes a riot to break out, and police must construct a barricade to prevent a mob from destroying the family's house.

While the commentary on the latent racism found in 1950s American suburbs might be on point, it feels forced in this movie — and more than one critic has essentially called the movie a muddled mess.

The film isn’t as bad as early reviews would suggest — after a slow first half, the pace picks up in the second half. At that point, the movie becomes a bonafide thriller as the violence escalates and the body count rises while Gardner finds it increasingly difficult to shelter his family from his web of deception.  

About The Author

Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at jniesel[email protected]
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