- Colin Fraser
TWO STARS Two women confront the past, present and future when an old flame comes calling.
COMEDY DRAMA #SUBURBICON
Without doubt, George Clooney’s SUBURBICON is an abject failure. On any level – whether as a comedy, a thriller, a 1950’s fetish romp, a commentary on racism or social engineering, a Clooney, Matt Damon, Julianne Moore or a Coen Brothers movie (they co-wrote the script) – it simply doesn’t work. Yet there’s also something head-scratchingly appealing about this car-crash of a film that tries so damn hard to bring all these elements together. It’s possibly the sheer anger that permeates every scene as, possibly, it draws an allegory from the American Dream that never was and the bastardised version that’s still marketed today. The racial tension that spilled over in the US just weeks ago about Confederate statues speaks to a large chunk of the action. Yet SUBURBICON remains so stubbornly obtuse about its intentions that you can never be sure what it’s trying to say. Other than it’s damned angry about it.
It starts when a black couple and their young son move into the epitome of an ideal neighbourhood. It’s the 1950’s, long before equal rights were a thing, and the white folks aren’t happy. They begin a long and bitter campaign to hound them out of town. Meanwhile, over the back fence, Matt Damon is plotting to kill his wife with help from her twin sister (both Julianne Moore) so they can claim the insurance. Caught in the middle of this is their son, struggling to understand why everyone has to be so mean, and so violent. You might think, being a Coen Brothers script, that applies just to the hired thugs, but in this ugly world, everyone’s a monster including the boy’s Dad and would-be step-Mom. And not in a SERIAL MOM kind of way either – these are ugly, ugly people.
No doubt that’s the point – it’s the natural outcome of a bitter, selfish society – but it fails to give the viewer anyone to empathise with other than a tortured boy who’ll need a lifetime of counselling. And perhaps that’s another point in a country famed for its industrial-sized analysis industry. Hence the anger. Unfortunately for Clooney, it casts such a sour shadow over his film that it’s virtually lost in wavering tone. Comedy? Well it’s not very funny. Thriller? It’s not that either. Social commentary? Perhaps, but in a very oblique way. Ultimately the black is not black enough, and the colour to florid for any of its many parts to join together as a pleasing, meaningful whole.