[Screen It]


(2017) (Matt Damon, Julianne Moore) (R)

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Black Comedy: A man and his family must contend with goons harassing them and more, all while their neighbors angrily react to a new African-American family that's just moved into their 1950s era, all-white suburban neighborhood.
In the late 1950s era suburban community of Suburbicon, everything is hunky dory -- and lily white. That is, until an African-American family moves in. Everyone is aghast upon setting sights on the Meyers (KARIMAH WESTBROOK and LEITH M. BURKE) and their young son, Andy (TONY ESPINOSA), and it's not long before the angry and upset stares transition into building fences on either side of their home, and otherwise trying to make them so uncomfortable that they'll move out.

Bucking that racist trend and with their backyards touching, wheelchair-bound Rose Lodge (JULIANNE MOORE) tells her young son, Nicky (NOAH JUPE), to invite Andy to play ball with him and the boy begrudgingly does so. Nicky's world is turned upside down, however, when two mob thugs, Ira (GLENN FLESHLER) and Louis (ALEX HASSELL), show up, tie up Rose, Nicky, his dad, Gardner (MATT DAMON), and Rose's twin sister, Margaret (JULIANNE MOORE), and use chloroform on all of them. All of which results in Rose's death, prompting her brother, Mitch (GARY BASARABA), to offer help, all while Margaret moves in to give the boy something resembling a mother figure.

But Nicky is confused when his dad and aunt don't pick Ira and Louis out of a police line-up, and things then become more muddled when Roger (OSCAR ISAAC), an insurance fraud agent, shows up, suspicious about Rose's life insurance being raised not long before her death. As Nicky begins to have his eyes opened as to what's really occurring in his house, he must also contend with the progressively worsening harassment his new friend Andy and that boy's parents are facing for being the only black family in the neighborhood.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
We all know that people are the same wherever you go
There is good and bad in everyone
We learn to live, when we learn to give
Each other what we need to survive, together alive
Ebony and ivory live together in perfect harmony
Side by side on my piano keyboard, oh Lord why don't we?

"Ebony and Ivory" Paul McCartney

The movie "Suburbicon" opens with a period-appropriate promo advertisement film for an idyllic suburban neighborhood known as yes, Suburbicon," where everything is hunky dory and the troubles and problems of the big city have been left behind.

That's followed by the reaction of the residents of the all-white neighborhood setting their sights on a black family (Karimah Westbrook and Leith M. Burke as the parents, Tony Espinosa as their young son) that's just moved in.

The common sentiment is "there goes the neighborhood" and as the neighbors progressively act less neighborly, we're led to believe that this black comedy, no pun intended as that's the literal genre, will feature some sort of comeuppance for the racists and otherwise misinformed white folk.

The film then segues to the house that shares backyards with the new residents where a family man (Matt Damon) awakens his young son (Noah Jupe), who was earlier instructed by his mother (Julianne Moore) to go over and play with that new boy. It seems something is amiss in their home and we then see two goons (Glenn Fleshler and Alex Hassell) harassing the family -- that includes the mother's twin sister (also played by Moore). That ends with the application of chloroform-soaked rags and the death of the mother.

Besides taking place just feet from each other, what do these two events have to do with each other? Will Damon's character enlist the aid of the black family to help them? Will he hire tougher goons that the new neighbors will also use to deal with their bothersome and possibly dangerous problem?

Alas, none of that happens in this offering that seemed promising in the trailers, but ends up a botched, missed opportunity. The original script -- by the Coen Brothers (Joel & Ethan -- the minds behind films such as "Blood Simple, 'Fargo" and "No Country for Old Men") -- was written many decades ago and then updated by director George Clooney and his producing partner, Grant Heslov.

Word is that the latter two shoehorned in the racial unrest angle into the original storyline. Besides being an all-too-obvious thematic message revolving around the notion that the people some might be worried about (based on their ethnicity, religion or what have you) are nothing compared to the seemingly normal folk who have hidden and sometimes violent tendencies, there's no reason for the plot amendment.

The three family members are barely personified (especially the father figure) and once one realizes their storyline has nothing to do with the beleaguered by the mob family one, it all seems nothing more than superfluous.

Which is too bad since the original story has a lot of potential. Without going into spoiler details, let's just say that everything isn't what it originally seems, and treachery is soon revealed and bodies start piling up in usual Coens brother style. Even so, I don't think the black comedy and related creativity is taken far enough. While there are some humorous moments of "macabreness," there should have been more.

Overall, I was disappointed by the film, not only due to its missed opportunities, but also by the inclusion of a separate storyline -- with a noticeably different tone -- that serves as nothing more than an obvious message of being blinded by hate and not realizing what true dangers might be lurking next door in suburbia. "Suburbicon" rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed October 23, 2017 / Posted October 27, 2017

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