‘I’ ON CULTURE
The new film Suburbicon is a disaster, and that is a real shame. There’s a lot of talent involved. The director is George Clooney, and it is based on an original story by the Coen Brothers, though rewritten by Clooney and Grant Heslov. It has top stars in Matt Damon and Julianne Moore. However, it falls flat on its face to such a degree that it is offensive.
It begins as a satirical view at the “ideal life” in a 1950s suburb. Gardner (Damon) is married to Rose (Moore) and they have a Happy Days-style life despite her being in a wheelchair. Then there’s a horrible home invasion and Rose is murdered. Her twin sister Maggie (also Moore) comes to live with Gardner and his son Nicky (Noah Jupe). It soon becomes clear that Gardner and Maggie are rather closer than the average in-laws, clear enough that even the young son notices.
We also manage to have a racial element. While this family is having its problems, there is a black family that moves into the suburbs and is treated abominably by just about every white person there with no reason given at all, unless you accept that all the white neighbors are racist.
Essentially, there are two stories that, frankly, don’t fit together at all. But this is a way for the socially conscious Clooney and Damon to make certain that a large part of their audience recognize their own evil nature.
The simplest issue I have is that in every bit of press leading up to the film’s opening, there is no mention at all of the racial issue. In the film, the black family is nothing more than a target without even a voice. We hear racist voices, but nothing at all from the black neighbors. It seems to me that the makers of the film should be more concerned about letting minorities speak rather than muzzle them while condemning whites.
That leads to the worst of the movie’s transgressions. I, and the few people in the theater when I saw it, do not like being scolded by people who think they are better than we are. Clooney and Damon seem convinced Americans are deeply flawed. Yet, in the past couple of weeks, both men have essentially admitted to ignoring, and perhaps covering up, gross abuses of women to protect their powerful friend Harvey Weinstein. Damon allegedly helped stop a New York Times exposé a dozen years ago, allowing Weinstein to abuse even more women. Clooney has behaved like those people who lived next door to Treblinka and claimed to have no idea of what was going on.
Even worse is the racial smear. Damon, who lives with his wife and two daughters in New York, has condemned as racist those people who do not send their children to public schools, some of which have single-digit percentages of students actually working at appropriate grade levels. Does he send his daughters there, however? No. His kids go to a private school where the basic tuition rate is $37,500 per child.
If you wonder why all this has come up in a movie review, the simple answer is that the film is such a dud (several audience members walked out, loudly saying they were going to ask for their money back), that I had time to think about all of these things. There are good ways to poke fun while exposing racism. This past spring’s Get Out demonstrated that clearly. And there are a lot of fun ways to have fun with bourgeois life. There have been a lot of films doing that, although most don’t have brutal murders. In this film, there were far too many subplots, none of which tied together.
I was hoping for a Coen Brothers type of film, but it was far less. It’s like wanting to see the Marx Brothers and not even getting the Three Stooges, but the old Ritz Brothers. This is one of those movies to completely avoid unless you are a real masochist. We can use some scolding at times, but it should not come from those whose glass houses seemed filled to the brim with organic fertilizer of their own species. Skip this one. Don’t even watch it on TV when it’s free.