The dark side of suburbia is front & center in Paramount Pictures, Suburbicon, the latest collaboration from George Clooney and the Coen Brothers. Clooney, who has previously acted in four Coen Brothers films, takes on the difficult task of directing one of their scripts. The result is a mixed bag that is sure to divide audiences. Suburbicon opens up with a humorous black & white PSA painting a portrait of what seems to be the perfect place to live in 1950's America.
Watching the PSA, one would assume that 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 (Matt Damon) must navigate the town's dark underbelly of betrayal, deceit, and violence. The community turns upside down by two key events, which set the plot in motion. The first is the lone black family's arrival in town, the Mayers, who is immediately disliked by the bigoted townspeople. The second is the murder of Gardner's wife, Rose (Juliane Moore), after a robbery.
Following the tragedy, Rose's twin sister Margaret (also played by Moore), taking on the role of caretaker for Gardner and his son Nicky (Noah Jupe). As Gardner, Damon provides us with his usual everyman sensibility mixed with someone who has secrets of his own. In dual roles as sisters. Moore plays both roles differently. Her portrayal of Rose, while brief, is nuanced and embodies a bit of Greek tragedy. Margaret comes off more like a Stepford wife, which Moore gives the right amount of eeriness. However, the standout among the Lodge family is Noah Jupe as Nicky. Jupe brings a relatable innocence to the role of a boy who is grieving his mother's loss and may know more about the town's dark side than adults around him think.
In a brief but memorable role, Oscar Isaacs shines as Bud Cooper, an insurance agent investigating Rose's death. As he usually does, Isaac commands the screen. He continues to show why he is one of the best actors working today. Isaac holds his own against Moore and Damon in two key scenes, and I genuinely wish that the Coen's script used more of the character Bud Cooper. However, outside of the acting, there isn't too much to recommend in Suburbicon. The screenplay, which languished in development hell for years, doesn't know what it wants to be. The film tries to be a social commentary on race but doesn't give us enough backstory on the Mayers family. Additionally, while the film does somewhat succeed as a dark black comedy, the moments are slim.
What is most upsetting is there was an excellent story to be told in Suburbicon. Given all the areas that Suburbicon attempted to cover, the film may have served well as a miniseries. One chapter focuses on Mayer's family, another on Gardner's family, and one on Bud Cooper. George Clooney has proven to be a gifted director in the past. In contrast, the Coen brothers have more hits than misses in their filmography. However, both Clooney & the Coen's miss the mark with Suburbicon.
Final Grade C-