“Suburbicon” Is Just More Evidence That Hollywood Is Imploding

The box-office catastrophe that is the George Clooney-directed and Matt Damon-starred ‘Suburbicon’ is making waves across the entertainment business.

“Suburbicon” had a $25 million production cost for Black Bear Pictures and cost $10 million for Paramount to distribute to over 2,000 screens. Over the weekend it did a miserable $2.8 million at the box office.

“Obviously we are disappointed in these results which we don’t feel are indicative of the quality and message of this original movie,” said Kyle Davies, president of distribution for Paramount.

The movie first debuted at the Venice Film Festival, and it was crafted as a fusion between an old Joel and Ethan Coen home-invasion comedy script and a more pointed satire of racism in a 1959 suburb.

Critics didn’t respond well to the mix, either; its Rotten Tomatoes score is just 26 percent fresh.

A critic for Vice called the film “so bafflingly bad, so fundamentally ill-conceived, so wanting in basic tenets of tone and narrative, it almost feels like the work of a first-time director…”

The film is, in fact, Clooney’s fifth as director, the article points out.

Deadline simply declared that “Clooney has sadly staged a misfire.” The Los Angeles Times, meanwhile, called the film a “dreadful movie for dreadful times.”

“Suburbicon” earned a low D- CinemaScore. It was the second-worst box office debut for Damon’s career, only behind 2000’s “All the Pretty Horses.”

One wonders whether the fact Clooney and Damon were both caught up in the Harvey Weinstein scandal dragged down the movie’s box office take. Surely that played a part in the disaster, but “Suburbicon” didn’t need any help bombing at the theaters. It’s not only an astonishingly poorly made movie, according to the critics (and not just the critics – Rotten Tomatoes has its critical rating at 26 percent and the audience rating even worse at 24 percent), but it’s a slap in the face to American audiences to boot. From Wikipedia, here’s the plot of the movie…

In 1959, the peaceful, all-white neighborhood of Suburbicon is shaken up by the arrival of an African-American family.

Matt Damon is Gardner Lodge, the father of a family in Suburbicon. One night, the home of the Lodge family is broken into by two robbers. The robbers tie the entire family up and kill the matriarch, Rose, with an overdose of chloroform. Her twin sister, Margaret, moves in to help take care of Nicky, the child of the family. Soon after her arrival, she begins to transform herself into Rose, dying her hair and having sex with Gardner.

As tensions mount between the residents of Suburbicon and their new African-American neighbors, charismatic insurance agent Bud Cooper arrives one day when Gardner isn’t home and begins asking Margaret questions, looking to clear up red flags in a life insurance claim made on Rose by Gardner shortly after her death. The conversation starts out innocuous enough, but Cooper grows suspicious when Margaret refers to herself and Gardner as a couple, after which Margaret kicks him out of the house.

Meanwhile, the two robbers who killed Rose are angry at Gardner after Nicky sneaks into the viewing room for a police lineup, where Gardner and Margaret denied that the two robbers were the ones who broke into their home. They are also mad that Gardner has not paid them a sum of money they were promised for killing Rose, and grow impatient when they are unable to reach him by phone. They make a plan to return to Gardner’s house and kill Nicky and Margaret.

That night, as a prolonged protest at the home of the new African-American residents turns into a small-scale riot, Cooper returns to talk directly to Gardner. He tells Gardner that he knows the nature of his and Margaret’s insurance fraud plan and attempts to blackmail them into giving him their entire payout in exchange for his silence. Margaret poisons his coffee with lye, and Gardner stabs him with a fireplace poker to finish him off. Gardner leaves to go hide his body, trailed by one of the two robbers.

Margaret attempts to poison Nicky with a sandwich after he eavesdropped on her conversation with Cooper and contacted her brother Mitch for help. The increasingly-suspicious Nicky doesn’t eat the sandwich, and as Margaret is admitting defeat, one of the robbers strangles her to death before heading upstairs to deal with Nicky, who is saved by the arrival of Mitch. Mitch gives Nicky a gun and hides him in the closet before succumbing to a stab wound given to him by the now-dead robber.

On the way home from disposing of Cooper’s body, Gardner is taunted by the other robber, who is suddenly killed by a fire truck. Arriving home, he finds the bodies of Margaret, Mitch, and the robber, and gets Nicky out of the closet. He offers Nicky a choice: go along with his plan to cash out an insurance claim and use the money to run away to Aruba, or be killed by Gardner.

The next morning, Gardner is dead, having eaten Margaret’s poisoned sandwich during his conversation with Nicky. Nicky calmly goes outside to play ball with the African-American family’s son as they clean up the remnants of the previous night’s riot.

That’s an uncommonly idiotic plot, and there’s a reason the Coen Brothers, who wrote the script in 1986, never bothered to make the movie. In 1986 there was a narrative that the 1980’s were the new 1950’s and therefore 1950’s satire had a bit of relevance. That was short-lived; 1950’s satire is meaningless to modern movie audiences.

And the race-riot piece simply looks like an attack on Donald Trump, which even Democrats are sick of hearing from Hollywood. Furthermore, audiences made up of suburbanites, most of whom are white, are probably sick of being demonized by the likes of George Clooney – who spent most of his career palling around with, and apologizing for, a notorious rapist.

This summer was more or less the worst the film industry has ever had, and it’s not getting better. Rotten scripts, actors and directors who have poisoned themselves with the public – yesterday, amid Kevin Spacey’s admission that he sexually assaulted a 14-year old actor, the sixth season of House of Cards was cancelled, and a total lack of connection to the majority of American audiences means the film industry, as currently constituted, is dying. Streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime are breaking down the monopolistic distribution system which was formerly owned lock, stock and barrel by the five major studios, and movie theaters are increasingly coming up with different kinds of attractions to draw audiences.

There was a time when a movie directed by George Clooney and starring Matt Damon would be a sure bet to at least break even no matter how bad it was. That time has passed. Hollywood has to earn its entertainment dollar from modern American audiences, and it is poorly situated for such a reality.

Maybe there might be a competing institution someday soon. Maybe publilc policy could bring that about.

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