Suburbicon is a new town in the USA, founded in the post-war years and full of pastel coloured houses on little lawns, which look a little like those seen in Edward Scissorhands. That’s not all it shares with Tim Burton’s film, though the black family the Meyers have replaced Edward as the interlopers into this apparent American idyll and their neighbours turn out to be even more monstrous and venomous than those the hairdressing hero encountered.
The problem is that this is not the main storyline. The Meyers and their horrendous victimisation at the hands of the local populace is a mere backdrop to the main story. Next door to the Meyers is Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon), his blonde wheelchair-bound wife Rose (Julianne Moore), her redhead twin Margaret and the couple’s son Nicky (Noah Jupe). It transpires that Rose was wounded in a car driven by her husband, an important fact to recall as the film proceeds.
When two hoodlums come calling for Gardner we realise this seemingly upright citizen is in debt to the mob, leading to tragic consequences for Rose. At her funeral, we meet the larger-than-life Uncle Mitch (a lovely turn by Gary Basaraba). He adores Nicky and is the only person concerned about his welfare. Margaret installs herself in the family home, dyes her hair and takes Rose’s place and Gardner seems more than happy with the new, sexier version of his dead wife.
So we have the angry mob bearing confederate flags parked outside the Meyers day and night, causing mayhem and disturbing the peace while the family try to go about their business with dignity. Nicky and Andy Meyers (Tony Espinosa) make friends and Andy gives his pal advice about pretending everything is alright. Not only is this tale of racial violence secondary to the other plot, it is just way too exaggerated.
The Suburbicon dwellers turn into a mob at the drop of a hat and only one family does not oppose the black family’s presence. Is it possible that so many Americans moved to Suburbicon to get away from any hint of a black person in their midst? And why the confederate flag? We know families moved there from Mississippi, but it just seems too implausible and overblown. Plus, you might want to make this the focus of your story rather than sideline it, making it seem less interesting than the mafia story next door. In fact, the mad scenes next door literally do not enter the Lodge home: the curtains are drawn at night, nobody mentions the situation; it’s as if it weren’t happening.
The Gardner Lodge story might be one of how good people do bad things, but it seems that Gardner and Margaret simply weren’t good people to begin with. They seem pretty nasty, but desiring their comeuppance signifies leaving Nicky alone in the world and all of this is played for laughs, including the various murder scenes. This was a problem with Burn After Reading and it’s no surprise to note that this too is a Coen brothers script. Apparently, it’s one that has been around for a while and it’s a shame it didn’t remain on the slush pile, for the Coens and Clooney are better than this.
The main redeeming feature is the excellent cast, including a nice turn from Oscar Isaac as a snooping insurance inspector. However, Karimah Westbrook and Leith M. Burke as Mrs and Mr Meyers deserve more screen time. The film, like the fictitious town it depicts, looks polished and pristine but is a nasty piece of work.