Paramount’s video teasers for “Suburbicon” reveal the kind of comedy the Coen brothers could write in their sleep.
The studio’s clips – both the trailer and a teaser promoting positive reviews – reveal a dark story of a dad in way over his head.
That man, played by Matt Damon, is punched, threatened and left with a blood-stained shirt. And that’s a key element of George Clooney’s latest directorial effort. Here’s an ordinary Joe pushed beyond his limits.
And he might have brought some of it on himself.
What about the other, critical story line in “Suburbicon?”
The film, according to the first wave of reviews, shows the chaos that ensues when a black couple moves into an all-white community.
It’s Racism, ‘50s style, an ugly part of this country’s past. Only you don’t see any examples of that in those Paramount teasers. No black cast members are prominently featured in the teasers, either. Why would the marketing team craft promotional videos leaving out such an integral part of the story?
We’re not talking about a random subplot here. The official RogerEbert.com take on the film reveals that the “two stories compete for screen time.”
What’s more curious?
Why is that angle of the film all the movie’s cast and crew interested in talking about?
Clooney confessed a ‘50s era report of a black couple tormented by an all-white town inspired him to make the movie. So he dusted off an old Coen brothers script featuring Damon’s character and fused it with the racism plot.
Clooney connected the latter to the recent racial chaos in Charlottesville, Va. A gathering of unabashed white supremacists marched, Tiki torches in hand, to protest the removal of Confederate statues.
“You don’t have to be a soothsayer to realize we’re going to constantly have to deal with these issues; they continually pop up. It’s too bad we’re still fighting these fights. I didn’t think we would, growing up in the ’60s in the South. I thought after segregation was gone we were going to really move forward, and we didn’t, really. We stalled. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
The director’s comments weren’t an isolated example. Here’s Damon weighing in on the film and why the movie’s racism echoes today.
“A lot of people, myself included, are really waking up to the extent of the existing racism, and it’s so much worse than I naively thought. I just feel naive at this point. It was shocking to see those kids — they looked 20 and 30 years old — in button-down shirts, with Tiki torches, walking down the street.”
Why would Paramount Pictures, a massive studio with a seasoned marketing team, avoid the very subject Clooney and Damon (and the movie) address head on?
This isn’t a diversity problem.
Clooney is telling this story with mostly white actors to hammer home how racism infected ‘50s America. You can’t cast many people of color when you’re portraying an ignorant, all-white community. So why won’t the marketers show their cards and let audiences know what to expect when they enter the theater?
Could it be they fear the film’s racial themes will scare off movie goers in middle America? Did they focus group the material and draw that conclusion? If so, didn’t Clooney and Damon get the memo?
Today’s trailers reveal too much of any given story. There are exceptions, of course. We still don’t know much about that “Last Jedi” plot. That likely won’t change before its December release. On rare occasions the mystery of a story is staunchly defended.
Most movie trailers, by contrast, do just the opposite. Movie goers often complain they spoil the films in question. That won’t be a problem with “Suburbicon,” apparently.
Wouldn’t a controversial topic like racism be a net positive? Any publicity is good publicity, right?
Divisive material can be a draw on the small screen. Stephen Colbert’s hard-left content is helping his ratings thanks, in part, to an increasingly fractured audience.
Movies are a bit different, demanding a far bigger audience to recoup expenses. And typically both the studios and stars realize that. Why else would the aggressively pro gun control film “Miss Sloane” get positioned as a fair assessment of a complicated issue by the film’s director, John Madden?
No, it’s not. It was never constructed as a polemic and it would not be a useful place for me to be, to come and rap the knuckles of a country and political system that I’m not actually part of, no matter how interested I may be in it. But the broad realities of politics with a small “p”? Yes, it’s definitely examining that.
He didn’t want to scare away audiences worried the film is either one-sided (it was) or flat-out propaganda (yes, again).
So is the “Suburbicon” marketing strategy shrewd? Cagey? Or is it a bait-and-switch tactic that could backfire? We’ll find out when the film opens wide Oct. 27.