Suburbicon – Film Review by Frank L.
Directed by George Clooney
Writers: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, George Clooney, Grant Heslov
Stars: Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Oscar Isaac
Joel and Ethan Coen originally wrote the script in 1986, after the release of Blood Simple but before Raising Arizona. It seems to have languished until 2005 when George Clooney became involved with it. It then took more than another ten years until the current film emerged. The script, according to the credits, is written by the Coen Brothers, Clooney and Grant Heslov. It is set in 1959 in the Eisenhower era in a suburban idyll. Everything is spruce and tidy with the verdant green, green grass very carefully trimmed. Everything appears in order.
In this suburban perfection lives Gardner (Matt Damon), his wife Rose (Julianne Moore) and their son Nicky (Noah Jupe). Perfection is ruffled by the arrival next door of an African American family of Mr (Leith M. Brook) and Mrs (Karimah Westbrook) Mayer and their son Andy (Tony Espinosa). It is notable that neither Mr. nor Mrs. Mayer were deserving of a first name. Their story is primarily limited to reacting to the naked prejudice displayed by their white neighbours. The plot primarily concerns the goings on in the all American “white” house. Rose “dies” early in the plot and her twin sister Margaret (also played by Julianne Moore) comes to live with Gardner and Nicky. Nicky does not like Margaret. It also becomes apparent behind the front door of this perfect suburban family that there are several things amiss. Meanwhile the white story is interspliced with occasional acts of racial bigotry against the Mayers family even though Nicky and Andy managed to create a friendship.
Moore exudes housewife-extraordinaire confidence in both of her roles but particularly as Margaret. She has some delicious suburban, albeit dark, moments such as a very brief sequence in her kitchen with a rolling pin and some little white tablets. Damon has to play a two-faced character that is Gardner. It is not an endearing role and Gardner is not a character who at any time evokes sympathy. But Damon does manage to give Gardner the outward appearance of respectability which covers over the cracks in his personality. Those cracks are underlined by the arrival of an insurance claim inspector Bud Cooper (Oscar Isaacs) who comes sniffing around Gardner. He is delightfully knowing.
Gardner’s family is described in great detail, however little is told about the happenings within the Mayer’s family. Their domestic story is not told; they only exist to interact with the white world. While throughout the film there are well observed scenes Clooney does not bring them together to make a greater whole. Enjoy it for what it is but it could have been so much more.