Arts movie review

These people do not deserve to go to Aruba

‘Surburbicon’ is a feeble attempt to tackle racism that bled trying

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Left to right: Noah Jupe as Nicky and Tony Espinosa as Andy Mayers in 'Surburbicon.'
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures and Black Bear Pictures

Directed by George Clooney
Screenplay written by George Clooney, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen and Grant Heslov
Starring Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Noah Jupe, Oscar Isaac
Rated R, now playing

Surburbicon’s trailer marketed the film as a subversive look into 1950s suburbia — the white picketed perfection has been satirized well enough by 2017 — as a good-natured man finds himself murdering another. Imagine my surprise when the film opens to a black family moving into a white neighborhood while white supremacists — i.e. every white person but the main Lodge family — plan to expel their newcomers. Soon, the Lodge family from the trailer is introduced, not in the form of the murderous father, but his son, Nicky Lodge (Noah Jupe).

Surburbicon plays the absurd. The Lodge family is attacked by two robbers out of nowhere. The mother, Rose Lodge (Julianne Moore), is killed by chloroform. We find that this is a film about absurdly terrible people, and no, it’s never the robbers in surburbia. Neighbors are aggressive beyond reason to the black family — white flight apparently was not a consideration — and no crime happens in the idyllic utopia of Surburbicon except for every decision by Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) and Rose’s sister, Margaret (Julianne Moore), essentially the plot of this film. Only the children and the black family remain guilt-free, victimized by the murderous, gruesome acts of the adults around them. It’s awkwardly laughable, because there are no fatherly behaviors from a very unlikeable father; only a son who is volleyed around, and the suburban residents have one track minds.

We have two storylines: the subplot with the black family — which shows that bravery involves withstanding one’s neighbors? — and the “main” storyline of the white Lodge family, in which the father is a mean bastard and leaves his son as a bastard. At first, I thought it was a lesson on cowardice, comparing the two families. But by the end, we never know anything about the black family other than their victimhood while we know all too much about the Lodge family. Perhaps Nicky is better off without his family, because despite his mild manners, his father is the worst kind of coward: the kind you cannot root for because he believes his cowardice is not a flaw at all. Gardner is, colloquially speaking, a douchebag. He wants to run off with his wife’s sister to Aruba and abandon his son to a disciplined military school, hires two people to murder his wife (yet he cannot pay the murderers, hence the film), and has no considerations for anyone but himself. He goes from victim of robbery to murderer of his wife to corpse by sandwich (yes, he died eating a sandwich), and the only wonderful part of this absurd plot is his death.

In retrospect, there wasn’t much of a point in the end. The people who died died of their own callous mistakes (and deserved it). There wasn’t much heroism to root for, so all one can do is hate the perpetrators. The film ends as Nicky and the black family’s son (who is never named) play ball over the fence. One survived the onslaught of his family while their other survived the neighbors. It’s hard to say what they will do now, because as the camera pans out, we see the baseball going back and forth, back and forth, as if that was all they could do: play ball.