Checked out the new Matt Damon film Suburbicon and my main take-away is that the trailers are full of lies and are deliberately hiding the more uncomfortable content lest they turn off potential ticket buyers. But that’s just marketing, it shouldn’t really impact the actual quality of the movie. For that, I’ll say I’ve not see a more smug, self-important, mean-spirited, ugly, violent, dark movie in awhile. Not the tone those trailers suggested… but there I go again.
The movie is set in the 1950s suburbia and, hey guys, get this… it turns out the white-bread, wholesome suburbs actually contain an undercurrent of darkness. Who knew? Not the scores of previous movies that had that same shocking insight. So this is just another one of those.. treading the same waters as if it were the first to reveal this to us.
Matt Damon and Julianne Moore play a pair of ostensibly perfect suburbanites when, one night, a pair of low level mobsters break into their house and something tragic happens. What follows is a series of allegedly darkly comedic events as some kind of insurance scam conspiracy starts to spiral out of control. I say alleged comedy because I’m fairly confident the movie wasn’t trying to be funny much of the time… and then would sprinkle in some out-of-place comedy. Or maybe the funny was just going over my head…
But not out of place as this HUGE subplot the trailers deliberately left out. A black family has moved into this perfect white suburb and EVERYONE is a raging racist. The neighborhood explode with not-at-all-a-commentary-on-modern-times white supremacy as they do everything they can to force this black family, who are docile and completely devoid of personality, to leave. They build fences so they can’t see the darkies, they refuse to sell them food at the market, they stand outside their house and yell threats. It’s ugly, dark, and is largely only used as a back-drop to the crime story going on across the street.
The movie is using this racism side-story as commentary… see? All these racists are so up-in-arms over the perfectly docile black family while the REAL crime and violence is going on in the white house next door. Isn’t that profound? I assure you, the movie is very smug and self-righteous about its very blatant messaging. There’s no subtly. Though it’s also possible someone might not make the connection and just be confused by two completely separate, unrelated narratives. Such a person might wonder why all this ugliness is used as a prop for the white family’s problems. It’s possible you might get the movie’s message and still feel this way.
I felt a particularly blunt social message was inexpertly being pounded into me… a message that really doesn’t work if the movie were to ever step back and give the black family an actual character instead of making them into angelic figureheads of perfection. You see, if we would just play catch with the little black boy next door, there wouldn’t be any violence ever.
As to the mystery/conspiracy/crime plot, the first half of the movie is unfocused, plodding, and confusing given the two unrelated plots. The film does start to get a bit more interesting as more and more of the crime plot unfolds. I’m not gonna say it ever gets good, but at least it stops being so boring. There are some good dialog scenes as people try to work out the mystery. But, really, we’ve seen this kind of Cohen Brothers (they wrote the movie) crime comedy before done a LOT better. So, in the end, even though I thought the movie didn’t deserve its bleak, ugly tone, at least it wasn’t irredeemably terrible.
The movie’s acting is good, at least. Matt Damon plays against type as his preppy facade falls away revealing a viscous, violent little man. Julianne Moore plays her 50s housewife trope to the nines. Oscar Isaac pops in to play an oily insurance investigator and his scenes are the best in the film. To their credit and as one of the only bright spots in the film, nobody is doing a bad job with this bad material.
So, there you go. Just another shocking expose on the underbelly of 1950s suburbia… which we already knew. I said it was ugly, smug, conceited, and self-important. I don’t mind dark comedies, bleak, and viscous movies at all… but this one just failed on so many different levels. I came away loathing the blunt instrument of smug condescension mixed with pulpy sub-par crime story. I really didn’t like this movie.