Matt Damon channeling Michael Douglas in Falling Down.
For whatever reason we remember seeing the trailer for Suburbicon dozens of times on TV and yet never getting a good feel for what type of film it was. The involvement of Joel and Ethan Coen, purveyors of the quirkiest of dark comedies, should’ve been a hint, but after watching it we’d put this on the odd side even for the Coen brothers.
In the late 1950s, the tranquil neighborhood of Suburbicon has become an oasis for people from across the county to live a safe, simple life. They all have one thing in common, however: they’re all white. And when an African-American family moves in, the residents vow to drive them out.
Around that same time, the Lodge family, which lives next door to the newcomers, fall victim to a home invasion in which Gardner (Matt Damon), his wife Rose (Julianne Moore), sister-in-law Margaret (also Moore) and son Nicky (Noah Jupe) are tied up and drugged with chloroform. The burglars use too much on Rose, though, and she dies as a result.
At least that’s how it appears on the surface, but it doesn’t take long for cracks to emerge in Rose’s death with Gardner in line to collect a significant payout from an insurance policy. The company sends claims adjuster Bud Cooper (Oscar Isaac) to investigate, and he wastes little time in starting to uncover the plot. Meanwhile, the town of Suburbicon grows more restless by the day as they rail against the integration of their community.
Suburbicon‘s cast is its strongest element. Seeing Damon as a full-blown antagonist is different, and he plays the smarmy Gardner Lodge well. Moore is also sharp in dual roles. Expect to see more of Jupe, too, as he does good work as Nicky. Isaac delivers the film’s best performance, but he’s limited to just two scenes despite fairly high billing.
That cheesy, wholesome ’50s vibe is always good for a few laughs, though after delivering a heavy dose in the early moments it’s largely relegated to the background the rest of the way. Still, the visuals of that era are well represented and make for an interesting setting.
As a coherent film, Suburbicon leaves something to be desired. The entire plotline involving the Mayers family breaking the colour barrier feels wholly tacked on, trotted out when the film wants something to split up the Damon/Moore scenes. There’s no arc to speak of, either. People hate them as soon as they arrive, and most still hate them as the credits roll. No one grows. No one gets shamed. No one receives their comeuppance. What was the point?
Nobody’s motivations (outside of Gardner and Rose) are ever really clear, which is a strike against the film’s lack of character development. This is especially true with the Mayers family — you’ve moved to a place where everyone wants you gone so you… don’t react in any way — and the criminals that kill for money but also drive busses in the area where they killed someone.
THE BONUS FEATURES
You’ll get a handful of standard behind-the-scenes content with the fairly lengthy Welcome to Suburbicon offering the most insight as it delves into numerous aspects of the production. The two smaller featurettes focus on casting and making the music, respectively. If those are topics of interest feel free to check them out. If not, you can safely skip them.
Suburbicon is a weird movie, but not exclusively in the traditional Coen brothers’ way. It’s also oddly constructed with a secondary plot that has no obvious bearing on the first and ends up doing little more than filling up screen time with no viable reason for existing or satisfying payoff.