There Is Something Strange In The Neighbourhood: The ‘Burbs

I have always found the concept of suburbia to be fascinating, the shifting winds of a community that has turned against their own, and utilising their own home as a fort from the hiss and stares that surround them. We are turning into a generation of addicted observers and desperate voyeurs, seeking out to penetrate the barriers of others while maintaining one of their own, a cynical outlook that has turned loving companionship to trivial disputes. A landscape that is dominated by the hungry ambitions and self-loathing of the middle class, cloaked in their neurotic necessity for admiration through materialism, never finding a moment of content as the ideas of fundamentals are constantly redefined.

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American Beauty may the pinnacle example of the latter, with a thorough exploration of the eccentric and fractured personalities of the middle class, acting almost as a penetrating public service announcement in the hopes of allowing its viewers to be aware of their own shackles and break free from them. The ‘Burbs, however, takes on the ideas of the former, where its residents constantly carry a desperate hunger to define their neighbours, who finds themselves overwhelmed and paranoid on the idea of privacy and slight eccentricities. It is through insulting chatter that pollutes the minds of its communities as it spreads itself from mouth to ear, rallying the community against the singular household who fails to uphold to the surrounding standards.

The difference of course between American Beauty and The ‘Burbs is that the former was a far more polished but well-executed attempt, peering into the souls of its residents and remains with it until the very final words have been spoken; the latter views its figures more distantly, placing its audience in a similar observatory position, and constantly judging and defining them in regards to their attitudes and actions; though interesting in its approach, it finds its narrative falling into far too familiar territory, almost shifting its tone to a more adventurous and action-orientated film, this is particularly evident in its climax and it carries a resolution that proves less than satisfying as the characters are no longer completely viewed with spite and stripped almost completely from the guilt of their assumptions.

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As for the pacing, it grabbed me in its first 30 minutes as characters are slowly being defined, hence leaving me unaware of the actual length that this film actually has taken in achieving it; but once the suspicious neighbours are finally formally introduced, this is where director Joe Dante begins to pull on the hand-brake, emphasising the accused far too much and shifting the film to a tone that proves less than effective. The film finds its strengths when it views its flawed protagonists, how their own conditioning slowly consumes their minds and potentially challenges the surrounding relationships.

It features an impressive casting with Tom Hanks in the front lines with a role that slowly loses his mind in his supposed week of vacation and free of stress. The supporting cast carrying names like Bruce Dern, Carrie Fisher, Corey Feldman, and Rick Ducommun who have slipped within their roles effectively, some highlighting their clichés with such ease and sharpness, further emphasising the satire that the screenplay is pushing. If only the film maintained a personal outlook towards its characters then this would have been close to excellent.

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The ‘Burbs takes on a fascinating idea and managed to stay with it throughout, unfortunately missteps were present on its way to its resolution, leaving me disappointed in its wasted potential. A cult audience this film has gained over the years and I can certainly see the appeal, but I was not able to completely jump on board, since its issues are far too apparent to be dismissed.

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