director Joe Dante
In 1989 when The ‘Burbs was released, director Joe Dante was enjoying a hitting streak. Leading up to it, he’d made Gremlins (1984), Explorers (1985), and Innerspace (1987) and his darkly comic style was jelling in mainstream Hollywood. I think back in ’89, I had liked but not loved most of Dante’s films, and The ‘Burbs fell into that criteria as well.
These days, I’m a lot more fond of Dante and his films. He’s a great presence in interviews about movies, the characters he’s known and worked with, his own childhood love of films (which is nigh encyclopedic), just about everything. And I’ve come back around to his films, appreciating them more than I did on the first round.
The ‘Burbs meets my new Dante criteria. I liked it more than I remembered.
The satire about the weird neighbors in an otherwise totally WASPy neighborhood stars the still young Tom Hanks and an almost criminally underused Carrie Fisher as the average nuclear family next door. Throw in chummy Rick Ducommun and a gung-ho Bruce Dern and the suspicions of the newcomers turn the would-be middle American street into paranoiacs on parade.
The use of the single neighborhood as a setting is a clever device, and Dante’s knack for subversive humor in mainstream fare hits a number of solid notes. It’s not a runaway success, but it’s funny. Henry Gibson and Brother Theodore are aces.
I always liked the poster for the film.