There’s a meme making the rounds, as memes do, with the sentiment, “Why does everyone idealize and romanticize the 1950s? We still have milkshakes and racism.”
Suburbicon, unsurprisingly from its title, is definitely about racism in America, what happens when a community so afraid of change almost literally tears itself apart. And milk, not milkshakes, but close enough. With surnames like Clooney, Coen, Moore, and Damon, I was certainly hoping for black humor and witty random snippets, but unfortunately, Suburbicon only partially lives up to the lofty ideals to which the creators and we as the audience expect.
The film kicks off with two random and unconnected events. A black family moves into an all-white suburb, who shocks this community so thoroughly that the mailman doesn’t even attempt to hide his completely biased and cruel reaction from them. And a white family is held up by two thugs who perhaps aren’t choosing this particular house by accident. What starts out crisp and taut quickly devolves as people make increasingly stupid decisions and the poor kid (Noah Jupe, playing Nicky) who witnesses his mom (Julianne Moore, as both halves of a set of twin sisters) die in front of him is forced to endure yet more fright and emotional torture. Then things get weird in the house as the dad (Matt Damon) and the aunt (Also Moore) quickly reveal to the audience and to Nicky that they’re the true villains.
The overt racism in particular is narratively confusing. As the black family is targeted with increasing hostility and violence, the reaction of the community so obviously bad and wrong that it made me thing there was some nuance or hidden message I wasn’t getting. I mean, it’s 2017. Those who are aware know perfectly well what racism in America looks like, and how to not be a racist human. Those who aren’t aware apparently live in Suburbicon.
Now for bright spots. Clooney’s directing is gorgeous and the performances are nuanced and well-executed, even if the characters are not quite fleshed out enough to make us fully care about the outcome. Jupe does a fantastic job of quaking in his boots (well, Chucks. It’s the 1950s, after all), and special mention must be made of Nicky’s uncle and the twins’ brother, Uncle Mitch (Gary Basaraba), who brings a boisterous heart to the proceedings. (My favorite line is in regards to Uncle Mitch, as he’s chatting with his priest about Nicky’s situation. The priest responds that the boy needs a mother and a father, and Mitch is, well, a “bachelor,” said with the same prudish disgust that one would describe a cockroach.) And of course, Oscar Isaac as the skeptical insurance adjuster is a scene-stealer.
Since this is a film that at least attempts to continue the dialogue about racism and other forms of prejudice, it’s one that probably should be watched, but darn if I wasn’t hoping for a bit more sharpness from the Coens, et al.
Director: George Clooney
Writer: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen and George Clooney & Grant Heslov
Runtime: 1h 44mins
Release Date: October 27, 2017
Main Image Credit: Courtesy Paramount