The perfect veneer of 1950s suburban life is just a mask for the deep rot and hypocrisy festering underneath the trimmed lawns in George Clooney’s “Suburbicon,” a derivative and somewhat edgeless satire.
Clooney directs a script credited to Joel and Ethan Coen, himself and Grant Heslov about a model community, Suburbicon, that promises a perfect suburban existence: a parcel of property for all, clean and well-stocked grocery stores, no traffic and friendly neighbors. But there’s a catch, and it is skin deep.
This is a problem when the Meyers family (Karimah Westbrook, Leith M. Burke and Tony Espinosa) moves to town. They are black, you see, and the rest of the community is not thrilled about it. Crowds start to gather outside of the Meyers house until it becomes an all-out mob. The plight of the Meyers family is just the side story, though, a tacked-on and bluntly conceived commentary on how this community is too distracted by their racist fears to see what’s going on next door, where Gardner (Matt Damon), his wheelchair-bound wife and his sister-in-law (both played by Julianne Moore), and his young son, Nicky (Noah Jupe), are terrorized in their own home by two goons.
It’s probably best not to say much about how this home invasion spirals and evolves, but it brings a fair amount of intrigue and terrific side characters into the strange orbit of the milquetoast Gardner. There’s Gary Basaraba as the empathetic Uncle Mitch, a lumbering and sweet presence who just wants to look after his nephew Nicky. Oscar Isaac, too, steals the show in a brief appearance as a three-steps-ahead insurance agent. Westbrook does wonders as Mrs. Meyers with not much screen time or dialogue. And the young Jupe proves to be a fantastic and compelling find, carrying much of the film as the hyper-vigilant kid who is watching his world unravel.
The leads are a little more underwhelming, which is perhaps a problem of the script. Damon plays Gardner as a kind of quiet everyman. Moore is more over-the-top, especially as the sister-in-law Margaret, who strains to be the perfect ’50s woman. Certainly there are meant to be parallels with today, but it is too obvious to be particularly subversive or revealing. Thus you’re left with just the plot, which moves along in a fairly compelling, if predictable way. But what’s the point of all this talent and originality and freedom if it’s going to feel so much like something we’ve already seen before?