Sometimes title credits are nothing but a literal statement about the participants in the particular film we’re about to watch. Occasionally they are used structurally to separate a small prologue sequence from the main event. Every once in a while they are a statement of intent—a way for a director to establish a tone for the rest of the film, often a series of images that evoke what will come, without being directly related to the main narrative (see: David Fincher’s catalogue).
The title credits for director George Clooney’s Surburbicon are a poorly executed pastiche of 50’s advertising that feels both overly elaborate and too clever by half. They are definitely a statement of intent, one which left me with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach as the sequence unspooled. It was a ham fisted parody of suburban real estate propaganda and was still somehow completely unaffecting. It was so bland and shallow that it undercut its intended effect and set the tone for the sordid mess that would follow.
This film fails on almost all levels. Writing, performances, direction, editing, and even the score feel like a copy of a copy of a copy. Ostensibly a satirical take on the hypocrisies inherent in the thin veneer of decency that 1950’s America hid behind, Suburbicon is a hot mess of cross cutting plot lines and themes that never cohere into anything but a messy dog’s breakfast. Like the title credits, the underlying reality that the film is supposed to be satirizing doesn’t feel like anything but a third generation mimeograph of the thing it’s attempting to represent. Add to that a puzzling and criminally shorthanded parallel plot evoking the overt racism of the era (something that should have resonated, but didn’t) and you have a film that seems to be parodying something that only exists in someone’s vague and cartoonish reconstruction of the period.
Adapted from a discarded Coen Brothers script, this film had all the components for something special. The cast is stellar (usually) but, except for Oscar Isaac, is either wasted or truly underperforms. Matt Damon disappears into his everyman role so thoroughly that he kind of...well, disappears. Julianne Moore has less to work with than most and you can see it in her performance. She strains in a way that I don’t think I’ve seen from her before. Nothing in this film feels fully fleshed, but it is most particularly clear in how the characters feel so uninhabited, like noh masks with nothing behind them.
Technically the film is fine. The production design and the cinematography are well executed, if a little stiff and intentional, but in aid of what? At the end of the film we are left with a curious sense that we just watched two incomplete and only vaguely related films, neither of which we would be likely to pursue to completion. Given the principals involved it was a disappointing experience across the board.
The same could be said of your work. Even if it were better executed and felt grounded in something that evoked what it purports to represent, I’m not sure it would be worth the effort involved to see it through.