Monday, October 17, 2011

"The 'Burbs"

“The ‘Burbs” is not cinema greatness. Even in the cannon of Joe Dante films it is not among the first few to spring to mind. It is good eighties fun though. You have the Americana setting, the dark humor, and Tom Hanks still in his “funny” everyman as opposed to his “respected and powerful” everyman. Everything is great up to a point.

The story is simple enough. A new, strange family moves into the cul-de-sac and murmuring starts. Weird things begin to happen and suspicions are aroused. In typical American fashion, our heroes don’t just sit there—they are going to save the neighborhood! Or are they?

At the film’s climax, we get a (rare for this sort of film) moment of clarity and insight. The true monsters of the film are not the strangers, the “others,” those that don’t fit in. The bad guys of the film are the nosy, presumptuous, fearful little protagonists. It is their prejudice combined with initiative that destroy the community and nearly gets them killed. This is a message that we need to hear every once in a while and some more than others.

Of course, this is an American film in the late eighties, so it couldn’t remain that way. It probably couldn’t today either. (Maybe even less so.) So we quickly wrap things up in a way that justifies all the wrong that was done and makes the outsiders monsters after all.

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