“Suburbicon” is a politically charged dark satire that fails spectacularly. It longs to be subversive and important but with its heavy-handed helpings of racial commentary and social satire, the film quickly becomes an exercise in extreme frustration.
George Clooney co-writes and directs the story of an idyllic suburban community in the 1950s, complete with manicured lawns and picture-perfect homes. Set in the summer of 1959, we are introduced to the Lodge family. There’s husband and father Gardner (Matt Damon), his wheelchair-bound wife (Julianne Moore) and her twin sister (Moore), and their young boy Nicky (Noah Jupe). Other characters come and go, including uncle Mitch (Gary Basaraba) and a deliciously crooked insurance claims adjustor (Oscar Isaac). But as with most tales set in a picture-perfect landscape, there’s a dark and violent underbelly boiling beneath the surface.
With a few bloody twists and turns along the way, the film becomes a bit of a misfire. There’s just too much shoved at audiences in terms of racially charged storytelling mixed with good intentioned dark political sarcasm. Just when you think the in-your-face white privilege elements are too conspicuous, we get a scene of two boys tearing down fences that by design were intended to keep them apart. If you’re going to make a smart movie, then keep it that way and don’t insult your supposedly intelligent viewers.
The original script was penned by Joel and Ethan Coen in the 1980s and their trademark story elements are all here (murder, absurdity, hypocrisy, and American pulp noir) but when Clooney and Grant Heslov started tinkering with it, they added their own touch of political activism. This is where things started to go South. There are too many ideas at play and juggling them simply doesn’t work within the framework of the story. While individually the murder mystery, racial commentary, and social irony work, they never manage to come together as one.
The film suffers from a confusing identity crisis as it’s trying to do too much. I appreciate and respect the basic idea and the obvious intention, but the message is poorly executed. This isn’t a bad film, it just fails to live up to its potential.