The Wayback Machine: Joe Dante’s ‘The ‘Burbs’

17 Sep

Ah, Comedy-era Tom Hanks.

Seriously, Tom Hanks. Why the Hate On Comedy? It's not like it hasn't needed you. God, how it's needed you.

Quite honestly, I got a little burnt out on Dramatic Tom Hanks–I can name the ones I’ve seen on one hand, probably–I realized while watching The Burbs, Joe Dante’s 1989 comedy, that I liked League of Their Own and Forest Gump, and figured Hanks would get back to comedies.

I’m still waiting.

Often considered the heir to Jimmy Stewart’s Everyman throne, it’s fitting that Hanks stars in a film about a bored man conflating the importance of his neighbors’ activities; Stewart’s version of this was Hitchcock’s ‘Rear Window,’ and I’m not really saying the two are comperable outside of ‘they are kind of similiar thematically and they both contain carbon-based life.’

I won’t lie, I love The ‘Burbs, but I was surprised how low it scored on Rotten Tomatoes. I suppose it might be considered a nostalgia piece, and except for one very interesting idea:

That reminiscing on the glorious good old days is a total crock.

Sound familiar? That’s because similiar territory was covered in the Coens’ existential masterpiece, No Country for Old Men, and is the cornerstone of current academic thought on history.

There’s a moment in the Burbs where we hear the story of Skip, a suburbanite who for all intents and purposes is happy with his soda fountain job, white picket fence and 1.8 children or whatever the percentage is. But then we find out the horrible truth–Skip wasted his family with an ice pick one fine summer day, and the story has become the kind of small-town lore they don’t include in the Chamber of Commerce literature. It’s the kind of thing ALL small towns have–violence, scandal, and intrigue are nothing new in the course of human events, and every small town has some kind of American Gothic weirdness going on that gets whitewashed when people talk about the Good Old Days out on the porch.

Skeletons in the closet, toys in the attic, ants at a picnic–however you qualify it, something is rotten in the state of Surburbia.

From Suburbia come delicious, free-range humans, delivered overnight to your local supermarket.

Hanks and his team of misfits –Rick Ducommen and Bruce Dern, with Corey Feldman checking in now and then with an ‘Awesome!’, ‘lame!’, or other 80’s era teenspeak– become more and more obsessed with the notion that all is not well next door. When they cross the line, Walter Fielding (Hanks) is an unwilling participant, but quickly takes up leadership of the group when evidence surfaces suggesting the Klopeks might be up to something unsavory.

I could easily see The Burbs being remade, if it were handled properly. IT might be fun to mix up the setting a little–set it in a little town in England and the Hanks/Ducommon duo could be reimagined with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, of Hot Fuzz/Shawn of the Dead fame.

‘The Burbs is a fun, tightly-directed and performed comedy almost anyone can hang out and enjoy.It occasionally wanders into ‘zany’ territory, but strong comedic performances from Hanks–especially his breakdown at the end–help ground it and keep it from straying into wacky land.

The Burbs is available on Instant Watch.


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