I have to make decisions like what's best for the family

I have to make decisions like what’s best for the family

 

Have you ever tried to make tomato sauce just like your grandmother’s? You pick a Sunday, pick a seat at the kitchen table, and take pen-to-paper on what and how much is in that glorious concoction. When you get home though, what you cook for yourself doesn’t match? It’s too tangy…too thin…too something. You get grumpy because you can’t understand it. You made note of every step and followed it all to the letter. What went wrong?

Little do you know that there are intangibles your Nona isn’t telling you – say, a pot that distributes heat just-so. You may have marked down what to do, but not entirely how to do it.

Film’s like that sometimes.

SUBURBICON takes us back to a suburban neighbourhood in 1959. As the film begins, a family of colour named The Mayers move into the completely white neighbourhood, and all of the white folk seem concerned over the direction their community is suddenly headed towards.

Meanwhile, violence hides behind the doors of one of the idyllic houses. Inside of the Lodge home, burglars break-in one night. They take the whole family hostage and knock them out one-by-one. When their attention turns to the wife and mother, Rose (Julianne Moore), they kill her with an overdose of chloroform.

This senseless killing weighs heavily on Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) and his son, Nicky (Noah Jupe). They grieve the passing of Rose and try to keep their chins up for the greater good. Gardner, especially, gets a hand when Rose’s twin sister Margaret (also Julianne Moore) offers to become a steadying female influence in the house.

Soon enough though, we begin to wonder if there is more to this senseless killing than meets the eye…and if the random of act of violence isn’t so random after-all.

Just another day in white, suburban America.

 

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If there’s one thing SUBURBICON gets right, it’s the way it presents suburban life as a bill of false goods. For more than sixty years now, North America has been conditioned to believe that we should aspire to a two car garage and a white picket fence. We’re wired to want a well-manicured lawn, and a kitchen worthy of Martha Stewart Living. SUBURBICON sees the rot underneath those four bedroom homes. They come with poor foundations made from unreal expectations and smiling deception.

We want these lives because our parents wanted them, or our friends want them. Once we get these lives though, we somehow still feel incomplete. Illustrating that is what SUBURBICON gets right, though other films have hit the target with better accuracy.

That is the highlight of Clooney’s Coens’ adaptation. The rest of the time, everything feels as plain and white as the milk and Wonderbread we often see on The Lodge’s table, and just as nutritious. We don’t

Perhaps part of the trouble comes from this being an early Coens’ script bled into their subsequent work. Certain characters and certain situations seem to evoke FARGO, or THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE, or THE HUDSUCKER PROXY. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, of course – writers reach back into their brains all the time to employ unused ideas or themes. Perhaps that’s why The Coens’ kept this script in the drawer: they realized that even though it wasn’t half-bad, they’d picked its best bits clean over the years and used them in more interesting ways.

When it isn’t doing something familiar, it’s doing something flat-out strange. The entire B-story of the neighbourhood trying to drive out The Mayers feels shoe-horned, ham-handed and ill-timed. The point seems to be that an entire community would become consumed by “undesirables” while truly dark deeds are being perpetrated by seemingly upright citizens.  However, the contradiction is a reach, and the threads don’t properly pull together. Therefore without the proper connective tissue, we are forced to watch blatant racists wave Confederate flags, light their property on fire, and terrorize an innocent family.

It has nothing to do with nothing, and could have been finessed into a decent story of its own. As part of this film though, it just takes something messy and makes it seem messier.

At the end of the day, SUBURBICON reminds us that there is a world of difference between A Coen Brothers Film and “Coen-esque”. While these actors certainly have the right sense of humour, and George Clooney has spent many hours studying The Gospel According to Joel and Ethan, the result is sorely lacking. The timing feels off, the message is messy, the absurdity is both not absurd enough and too absurd all at the same time.

Clooney can make a pretty good sauce…but it’s not as good as Nona’s.

 

Matineescore: ★ 1/2 out of ★ ★ ★ ★
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