“A very tricky business, I can tell you,” says Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon). “I’ve never seen any of these clowns before, so there’ll be no more talk about it.” His young son Nicky (Noah Jupe) says two thugs he and his father saw in a police lineup look like the men who killed his mother. That’s the setup for one of “Suburbicon’s” three stories, the only one it tells convincingly.
Why won’t Gardner believe his son? What’s going on between Garner and sister-in-law Margaret (Julianne Moore)? Is Nicky the one main character we care about in this laugh-free dark comedy? For me, he was.
Matt Damon, Julianne Moore and Noah Jupe are members of the Lodge family — Gardner, Rose and Nicky. The family lives in Suburbicon, an all-white, Levittown-styled planned community built in the 1950s when the film takes place. When a black family — the Mayers — buys a house, integrating Suburbicon, white residents protest violently, but Nicky bonds with new next-door neighbor Andy Mayer (Tony Esposito) who, like him, loves baseball. Their genuine, inter-racial friendship is a welcome contrast with most other plot elements in “Suburbicon.” Andy’s mother (Karimah Westbrook) remains dignified and staunchly unmoved despite rampant racism. This second of “Suburbicon’s” stories is based on events that took place in Levittown, Pennsylvania, in 1957.
Others in the cast include Oscar Isaac as antic and verbose insurance investigator Roger whose unannounced call on Margaret (Julianne Moore) is the best sequence in “Suburbicon.” Roger seems to be visiting from another, better, movie. He’s suspicious that Gardner’s large claim is fraudulent. “You develop a nose for hanky-panky,” Roger says, “but there’s no faint aroma here — it stinks!” Glenn Fleshler and Michael D. Cohen are strong-arm hit men.
“Suburbicon,” marketed as dark comedy/crime drama/mystery, gets little right, despite A-list filmmakers. George Clooney directed and co-wrote the screenplay with Grant Heslov, incorporating another script, written in the 1990s by Ethan and Joel Coen when their “Fargo” was a hit. The two scripts have criminally inept main characters: “Fargo’s” Jerry Lundegaard is quite like “Suburbicon’s” Gardner Lodge. Finding humor in deeply unlikable characters like Jerry — or Gardner — is not easy, and Clooney, alas, lacks the knack. As for “Suburbicon’s” racial integration story, it’s mostly in the background, getting short shrift. The third story — how Nicky learns the nasty business his father and aunt are up to — is “Suburbicon’s” best-told story.
Rated R for violence, language and sexuality, “Suburbicon” runs 104 minutes. I wish I’d missed this one.
Dark comedy, without laughs,
“Suburbicon” is its name;
Clooney co-wrote and directed,
So mostly he’s to blame.