Writers Joel and Ethan Coen (“No Country for Old Men”) are infamous for giving their films complex layers of story, meaning and enjoyment. For example, in “Fargo”, there’s the base plot: a crime story about the indomitable nature of being righteous in a world full of evil. Underneath that, however, is a black comedy that depicts violence and crime in a brazenly humorous way.
The thing about “Fargo”–and many other Coen Brothers films–is no matter which layer you analyze, the movie is always incredible. As a crime drama, “Fargo” is intense. As a comedy, it’s hilarious. Their latest screenplay, “Suburbicon,” definitely attempts to keep that tradition alive. With a less than apt director, the movie stumbles over the weight of its inadequacies.
George Clooney (“Monuments Men”) directs the film. The story follows Gardner (Matt Damon, “The Bourne Identity”) a man living in the peaceful suburban town of Suburbicon. After borrowing money from loan sharks, the time comes to collect. Unable to pay, he’s forced to watch the crooks kill his wife, forcing him into a story of deceit, murder and fraud.
While the main plot is well written, it the background story that really shines. The all white neighborhood is shocked and disgusted when an African American family moves in. As the harassment escalates, the family remains headstrong, refusing to give into the racist demands of their neighbors. It’s an incredible contrast to the snowball effect story that Matt Damon and his family go through.
As a black comedy, “Suburbicon” is fantastic and consistently funny. The crime movie bit just isn’t as interesting. But as the crime story is the outer layer, it’s still interesting to note the movie isn’t put together well. This is mostly due to Clooney’s well-meant but at times inadequate direction.
The worst element, of course, is the awful score. Not only is it far too loud and manipulative but the music also has a horrible habit of undermining the comedy. Melancholy songs will accompany scenes drenched in comedy. Silly moments are hampered by a soundtrack that has no consideration for the tone of the script, and it never shuts up.
Under the guidance of a more talented director and given a better composer, there’s no doubt that “Suburbicon” could have actually been a spectacular dark comedy. It’s a letdown too, because the film is hilarious and socially relevant. Ultimately, I can’t recommend the movie because I just didn’t like it.
As I sat there, trying to engage with the narrative and characters, I could hear the theater next to me play “Jigsaw”. The blaring soundtrack, the screams of people being eviscerated and the splatter of gore resonated loudly through the wall. Then a thought crept into my mind. I would much rather be watching “Jigsaw” than “Suburbicon.” Not because it’s better or worse–that’s irrelevant. I just know I personally would have had more fun.
This is one of the worst sins a film can commit: making its audience wish they were doing or watching something else. At the end of the day, there’s something better you could be doing with your time than watching “Suburbicon.”