Suburbicon ★½

2017 movie viewings, #149. George Clooney's Suburbicon holds the dubious "honor" of now being the most blatant example of bait-and-switch I've ever experienced as a moviegoer. For while the movie's trailer gives off the impression that it's a wacky black comedy, about a milquetoast office worker in the 1950s who's forced through circumstances to become a violent killer to protect his family, the actual movie I just watched is a treacly earnest and joke-free serious drama about a thoroughly unpleasant human being (Matt Damon, who hasn't been this weaselly since The Talented Mr. Ripley), who first gambles away his life savings to the mafia, then hires a couple of goons to kill his wife during a staged break-in for the life insurance money, reveals himself to be having an S&M-based sexual affair with his wife's twin sister (Julianne Moore, playing dual roles), and eventually threatens to murder his own ten-year-old son when the kid attempts to tell the police the truth. And if this wasn't enough, Clooney then adds an entire B-story that wasn't in the original version of this script, penned by the Coen Brothers back in 1986, in which a black family moves in next-door for the first time in this Levittown-type suburb's history, with every single white person in sight being violently against it except for our angelic ten-year-old hero at the center of the story, whose racial tolerance is hamfistedly shown through eyerollingly plaintive conversations with his black ten-year-old neighbor. ("Do you like baseball?" "I like baseball. Do you also like baseball?" "I also like baseball! We are two human beings who like baseball!" "Yes, that is correct! We are two young boys who are both fans of the sport known as baseball! Should we now go play some baseball...together???" [Go skipping off down the street hand-in-hand while singing "We Shall Overcome"])

The irony of all this is that Suburbicon could've actually been a pretty great noir, if Clooney and co. had simply embraced the moral ambiguity of the circumstances like all good noirs do, and if they had entirely gotten rid of the absolutely pointless and endlessly distracting "WACISM IS TEWWIBLE!!!!!" B-story; and in fact, I'm willing to bet a thousand dollars that this is exactly what the Coens' first draft of the screenplay exactly was, since after all they wrote it as their very next script after making the similarly dark and straightforward Blood Simple. But by telling this story through the eyes of a psychologically traumatized ten-year-old child, who seems to be the one and only person in this entire city to understand the difference between right and wrong, Clooney in effect makes a film noir from the viewpoint of the crewcut squares who tried to ban film noirs back in the '50s, a Sunday-School-worthy morality tale about what a bunch of awful, awful people all these sinners are, and how every single one of them eventually get the punishment they so richly deserve.

I suppose if you try really hard (which they did, sister, believe me), you can somehow piece together two minutes of a wacky dark comedy out of all that, but I'm not exaggerating when I say that that's on the level of those fake YouTube fan trailers that, for example, turn The Shining into a romantic comedy or Mrs. Doubtfire into a horror movie; and the only reason I can think of that Paramount's marketing staff would do something like this, a cheap and insulting gimmick that would be caught so ridiculously quickly, is that they all knew the film's bad first-week word-of-mouth was going to kill its second-week box office anyway, so decided to go for a "scorched earth" policy and just flat-out lie to the public about what kind of movie this is, in order to dupe as many morons like me as possible to seeing it on opening weekend while we still didn't know any better. That's lousy, and this film is lousy; and if it wasn't for the fact that you can see the legitimately great noir poking out from all the crap that Clooney and co. piled on top of it, this movie would've gotten no stars from me at all. Buyer beware!

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