Thursday, 6 September 2018

Double Feature: Suburbicon + Jasper Jones

Suburbicon and Jasper Jones are two very different movies, yet there is significant overlap between them. With both powered by the racism in our society, I thought it would be an interesting thought experiment to review them in tandem.
Subrubicon is a Hollywood production with some big Hollywood names to match. It is directed by George Clooney and it stars Matt Damon and Julianne Moore. In contrast, Jasper Jones appears to be a small Australian production that I never heard of until it was featured on iTunes; it does feature Toni Collette in a supporting role and one Hugo Weaving in a more of a cameo role. Both deliver the goods, performance wise.
Both movies take place in an era when racism was out in the open and commonly accepted. Suburbicon takes place at a fictional all American suburb during what appears to be the fifties; Jasper Jones takes place at a middle of nowhere, WA (that’s Western Australia for you) town during the sixties. Suburbicon tells the story of what happens to our fictional all American suburb when a black family dares to settle in; Jasper Jones tells the story of the marginalisation of those at the edge of society, including the aboriginal Jasper Jones (who is actually only a minor character in the scheme of things) when a teenager disappears. Us viewers are told right from the start that she died; it's how the people in the movie react that builds this movie.
The story is pretty much the same in both movies: the whole of the dominant white society focuses on the members of the other races as the cause of all evil, while it is actually the prominent members of that white society that are the cause of all that is bad. In both movies we see things [mostly] through the perspective of a child.
Clearly, both movies were designed as retaliation to social trends affecting both contemporary USA and Australia. I am referring to that loss of inhibition around the way we deal with race, and I’d say both films do a good job in the message delivery department.
Differences wise, it is the style of the two movies that sets them apart. On one side,Jasper Jones is a pretty conventional, albeit quite well made, piece of story telling. On the other, Suburbicon tries to make a name for itself with almost caricature like characters, and gimmicks such as Moore playing two characters at the same time + Damon pedalling a kids’ trike in a scene that would normally feature a getaway car in any other film.
Best scene:
The Vietnamese friend of Jasper Jones’ hero character steps up as the last batter in a cricket game. None of his teammates want that Vietnamese scum there, and he only managed to get into the lineup as a result of others’ mischief. The dominantly white crowd leaves in disgust.
That is, until the hero of the moment bats his way to a team win. The crowd comes back and cheers him passionately [for the duration of the win] as he brings them victory.
That scene is so quintessential Australia it is hard for me to think of a better representation of the country.
Both are good movies, but while Suburbicon errs on the gimmicky side - style over substance - Jasper Jones oozes with genuine quality.
3 crabs for the former, 4 for the Aussie out of the standard 5.

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