Bruce Steele: Suburbicon is one of those movies with so many big names involved — director George Clooney, writers Joel and Ethan Coen, stars Matt Damon and Julianne Moore — that the brilliance of the marquee talent seems to have blinded everyone to the shoddiness of the material. It’s supposed to be a dark comedy. Did you laugh?
Edwin Arnaudin: It got a few chuckles out of me — literally two or three. Mostly I kept thinking, “Is this really the movie Clooney set out to make?” How about you?
Bruce: I don’t remember laughing WITH anything we hadn’t already seen in the previews. There were some uncomfortable chuckles at how off the rails it went. If I’m guessing right, I think the Coens’ original idea was a kind of Fargo from a child’s point of view, but they couldn’t figure out how to make it work. Did you at least sympathize with the boy?
Edwin: Only a smidgen. The awkward, amateurish performance by Noah Jupe as Nicky kept me at a distance, as did the script’s inability to stick with him as the primary point of view. I wasn’t exactly enamored with his father Gardner (Damon), mother Rose (Moore), aunt Margaret (Moore again) and the cast of misbehaving adults, either. Is there anything praiseworthy here?
Bruce: Not really. Quite the opposite, the almost completely unrelated subplot in which the family’s white neighbors morph into a racist mob to intimidate the suburb’s first black family is borderline offensive to both races. What the heck was that supposed to prove?
Edwin: I have no idea. The concept lands with a thud pretty much immediately. In more competent hands, a crowd of angry white people singing Civil Rights Movement spirituals might have some satirical sting, but in Clooney’s it’s incredibly sloppy. I was with him as a director through The Ides of March, but after the lukewarm (at best) Monuments Men and now this dud, I’m far less likely to care about his next undertaking.
Bruce: He’s inconsistent at best. Good Night, And Good Luck was a gem, also set in the 1950s and threaded through with great music. Period songs are largely missing here, among the many missed opportunities. It’s goes almost jaw-droopingly dark with no relief from smart social commentary or humor. I have thought of one thing to praise: I thought Oscar Isaac was entertaining in a small role as an insurance investigator.
Edwin: So small that I nearly forgot about him! I guess he had a free day before The Last Jedi began shooting and thought it would be smart to stay in the Coens’ good graces, if they’re actually even involved. I think their screenplay credit should be shifted to something like, “Based on the film Fargo, diluted within a milliliter or recognition by those hacks George Clooney and Grant Heslov.”
Bruce: Ouch! Kinda true, though. It’s one of those movies where you can imagine the cast and crew ribbing each other at how outrageous the dailies are when no one has figured out the big picture and none of the filmmakers’ intent reaches the screen. Isaac saves it from an F, but I give it a D-minus.
Edwin: Entertaining as its severely misleading trailer was, dumping Suburbicon in the weekend traditionally reserved for the year’s dumb, sure-to-be-a-hit horror sequel (2017 edition: the latest Saw installment, Jigsaw) is a huge red flag in hindsight. I was bored senseless by it, but there’s enough technical proficiency on display to get a full D from me.
Grade: D. Rated R. Now playing at Biltmore Grande and Carolina Cinemark
(Photos: Paramount Pictures)