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Suburbicon

The Florida Project

November 2, 2017

Suburbicon (* ½) R    

The career of George Clooney as director is an interesting case to be sure. This, of course, isn’t to be confused with the career of George Clooney, the actor, which is another subject altogether. Clooney’s work behind the camera began nicely in the early 2000s with his TV movie remake of the 1964 nail biter Fail Safe, and transitioned smoothly with his impressive 2005 feature film Good Night and Good Luck. And then a strange thing happened. With each successive effort, the quality so evident in the beginning began to slip, which may be the first time a director’s work worsened with each new film.    

And now we have what is possibly the nadir of Clooney’s career behind the camera, Suburbicon, a film that can match his incredibly dull 2014 effort, The Monuments Men, toe to toe in terms of its lack of quality. And though I openly admit to disliking that previous film a bit more than this one the difference would be akin to splitting atomic particles. Both are bad in a way that’s quite astonishing considering what came before.   

Suburbicon is a project with a bit of tortured history to begin with considering it sprang to life in 1986 as a script written by the Coen Brothers and quickly tossed aside in favor of the brothers next project, Raising Arizona.

Matt Damon in Suburbicon

Clooney was apparently attached at one time and legend has it that he couldn’t get the project out of his mind and was hell bent on turning it into a film. Unfortunately he seems to have forgotten the old adage that a man needs to know his limitations, said limitations being that Clooney simply doesn’t have the ability to pull all of the film’s elements together in a way that the Coen Brothers would have done. Then again maybe there’s a reason the Coens abandoned ship to begin with.   

As it stands Suburbicon is a genuinely uneasy blend of many disparate elements. It’s part film noir, part social satire and none of its parts ever congeal in a way that feels natural with the mixing of different genres constantly at odds with one another.    Longtime collaborator and Clooney pal Matt Damon stars as Gardner Lodge. The setting is 1959 and Lodge finds his tranquil existence shattered after a home invasion which equally unnerves his son (Noah Jupe), his wife and sister in law (the latter two both played by Julianne Moore). More plot complications ensue when a black family moves into the neighborhood, which allows Clooney to at least get in a few anti racist jabs.     

The period detail and technical details are generally good here but certainly not enough to save this ill advised endeavor. Hopefully Clooney will duly note his limitations, if and when, he steps behind the camera after this debacle. 
  
The Florida Project

(*** ½) R

Sean Baker’s The Florida Project is another film­—along with the recent release Brad’s Status—that has restored my faith in the kind of filmmaking that I so desperately crave. This is a film about people and the struggles that some face in their attempts to live from day to day and the precious innocence of childhood. It’s a beautifully realized, and at times, painful, tale of the have-nots who live in the shadows of the affluent, in this case the Disney resort in Orlando, Florida (hence the film’s title). One thing I can guarantee is that after seeing this film you’ll never look at one of those low rent hotels where the residents live week to week in the same way again.

Willem Dafoe is the only name actor in the film’s cast. He’s Bobby, the manager of a flophouse hotel in the direct vicinity of Disney’s sprawling theme parks in Orlando. Bobby has his hands full dealing with the coming and goings of the mostly morally dubious residents of the motel. However, the film really isn’t about Bobby. It’s really about Moonie (Brooklyn Prince in an astonishing debut), a precocious six year old who’s left to fend for herself for large stretches of time due to the negligence of her ne’er do well mother, Hailey (Bria Vinaite).

Moonie forms friendships with other children in similar situations who also dwell in the hotel.

Willem Dafoe & Brooklyn Prince in The Florida Project

With them she’s able to create her own universe that only she and her friends are privy to, a place that allows her to escape the terrible day to day reality of the life into which she was born. Unfortunately, her mother’s unpredictable and, at times, violent and impulsive, behavior constantly puts Moonie at risk. There’s a feeling that this can’t end well but the movie doesn’t dwell on that but instead puts its focus on the magical world that only children inhabit before the harsh realities of life manage to creep in and steal their innocence.

Baker has shot the film on 35mm film and in glorious widescreen. Interestingly, much of the film is shot from the level of the kids who inhabit the film and we feel that we’re right there with them as the mysteries of the world unfold around them. If there is a quibble to be made it would be the parting sequence during the film’s denouement, which feels at odds with the rest of the film. Having said that, Baker accomplishes with his camera something that is rarely seen in films of this type. It’s not an easy film to digest but the rewards the film offers the viewer make it more than worth it. 

Suburbicon is playing in Hickory (at press time) and Charlotte. The Florida Project is not yet playing in the area, as of FOCUS’ press time.

Questions or comments? Write Adam at filmfan1970@hotmail.com.

 

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