Does anyone know what anyone behind Suburbicon was thinking? Few films have been such a misfire, such a disaster and a major reason for Suburbicon being such a horror is that George Clooney, directing and cowriting with his longtime producing partner Grant Heslov with Joel and Ethan Coen, simply have no idea what kind of story they want to tell.
At least it looks that way given how many conflicting stories are jammed into this, then add that the tones are also wildly contradictory and you have a film that save for one brief shining moment collapses onto itself.
Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) is your average upper-middle-class white patriarch in the community of Suburbicon, living with his paralyzed wife Rose and her twin sister Margaret (Julianne Moore) and Gardner and Rose's son Nicky (Noah Jupe). One fateful night, robbers break into the Lodge home, tie up everyone and 'accidentally' kill Rose with an overdose of chloroform.
Despite being a mild-mannered individual, Gardner does not appear to be too broken up about his wife's death. Even more surprising is Margaret's reaction: she dyes her hair to match Rose's and at one point Nicky, highly traumatized by the events, is stunned to find Gardner spanking Margaret with a ping-pong paddle in the basement with his own pants down. Margaret, for her part, has turned into a bit of a bitch with Nicky, curtly dismissing his desire to leave Suburbicon.
Making all this all the more outlandish is when Gardner and Margaret are called in to identify the robbers in a lineup. Gardner is upset that the police called his son into this, but Nicky manages to sneak in and is absolutely flabbergasted when both of them say the robbers are not there when they clearly are.
There's a reason for all this: the 'robbery' was all part of a plot by Gardner and Margaret to kill two birds with one stone: kill off Rose and get the insurance money so they could be together in Aruba. The pesky question of Nicky is handled by planning to ship him off to military school. Nicky, more alarmed than ever by the goings-on, calls his Uncle Mitch (Gary Basaraba) for help.
The 'robbers' come back: they are loan sharks coming for Gardner for the money he owes, which has not come in because the insurance company is dubious. They send an investigator, Bud Cooper (Oscar Isaac) to investigate. He is open about his suspicions of foul play, sending Margaret into hysterics. Bud comes back, asking for all the insurance money to keep him silent. While he also brags about knowing the dangers he is in, that does not stop him from getting poisoned by Margaret, then whacked by Gardner.
The loan sharks decide they've waited enough and force the situation: one of them will kill Margaret and Nicky while the other will put the squeeze on Gardner, whom the police are starting to look on with suspicion. Margaret poisons a sandwich and milk to kill Nicky, the boy who knows too much, but Nicky hides in his room, terrified. She soon gives up and is killed by one of the loan sharks. He comes up to try and kill a terrified Nicky, but Uncle Mitch manages to come, saving him but sacrificing himself in the process. The other loan shark follows Gardner, who is dumping Bud's body, and is killed himself when he fails to see a speeding emergency truck collide into him.
Gardner comes to find so many dead bodies and a traumatized Nicky. Calmly eating the prepared sandwich and milk (which I figure would have already gone sour after all those hours, but whatever), he tells his son he can either go along with his plan or have his father kill him. Fortunately, the next morning Nicky walks out of the house, his father being the one who ends up dead with poisoning.
A film could have been made of the Meyers facing overt bigotry in this all-white community. A film could have been made about the duplicity of Gardner and Margaret. You could even make a whole feature about Isaac's character, which would have proved far more interesting. Suburbicon, it appears, decided to throw everything at it to see what stuck, and what stuck was nothing.
Clooney and Heslov rammed some kind of movie into what appears to be an early draft for a Coen Brothers dark comedy, and while the fact that I'm not a Coen Brothers fan of their own quirky worldview does not help, the two separate stories are so mismatched that there is not much if any case to have one intrude on the other.
At this point, I do wonder why Suburbicon thought people would enjoy seeing a comedy where a child is deeply traumatized, nearly killed and told by his own father that he would murder him. It is rather ghastly that such a concept would be thought of as a delightful farce.
This is especially so given that Clooney seems hellbent on giving Suburbicon a faux-1950s veneer, with Alexandre Desplat's score giving off all the wrong clues about what it is meant to be. The opening music and 'commercial' for Suburbicon the community makes it come across as an almost too-cutesy comedy, while at other times it makes what should be dramatic moments appear as farce (the music at Margaret's killing seems oddly comical).
You can cut them some slack given it is meant as a 'dark comedy' but why then try to have drama over the Meyers, who barely register as characters, in something that is meant to be more wittily ironic?
Moore plays the faux-Stepford Wife-type Margaret as perpetually simpering when I would have advised a touch of the femme fatale, and Damon never makes the case for whether he is a nebbish stuck in a lousy set of decisions or a criminal mastermind because he plays both the same way. Jupe, at his young age, manages to out-act them, his large eyes and frightened manner making Nicky a survivor in this nightmare.
Isaac is the bright spot apart from Jupe as the shady insurance agent, full of snark and smarts. However, the screenplay again undercuts him: how he could not see the obvious attempt to kill him despite his claims of being able to spot such things is bizarre. It also makes one wonder why, if he has indeed done this before, no one else has tried to do him in. Furthermore, why didn't Gardner and Margaret say that the thugs were in the lineup? It would have gotten rid of them, unless they feared they would squeal, which they could deny, but I think plot is something Suburbicon did not care for.
The comedy does not work. The drama does not work. Nothing works in Suburbicon.