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IGBY GOES DOWN

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Kieran Culkin, Claire Danes, Jeff Goldbulm Jared Harris, Amanda Peet, Ryan Phillippe, Bill Pullman, Susan Sarandon
Director:  Burr Steers
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  MGM
Features:  See Review
Length:  98 Minutes
Release Date:  February 4, 2003

“There’s one in every family.”

Film ***1/2

Igby Slocumb is a character many critics have compared to Holden Caulfield.  Like J. D. Salinger’s immortal restless youth, Igby is old enough to realize how phony the world is, yet too young to accept that he can’t do more about it except rebel in his own small ways.  For half a century now, the Holdens of the world have been recognizing the world for what it is, yet none have been able to alter the course.

As played by Kieran Culkin, though, Igby is a character, like the movie he’s in, that is frequently surprising.  The movie has plenty of humor…some of it dry, some of it dark…but it also finds footing in some sad reality.  In his dysfunctional family, hatred is easier to express than love, and when love finally shows up, it’s a revelation that surprises even Igby.

A troubled student who has flunked out of many ritzy schools, Igby is the constant problem of his self-centered mother Mimi (Sarandon).  Her civil venom combined with her son’s open hostility makes for some amusing confrontations.  As you’ll find out, Igby is the kind of kid that inspires others, including a counselor, to hit him!

His father (Pullman) has long since withdrawn from reality and the family…we sort of see why in a series of flashbacks.  Also in the family:  Igby’s older brother Oliver (Phillippe), a rigid young conservative college student who reminds Mimi “Igby is NOT my fault”, and his godfather D. H. Baines (Goldblum), whose easygoing manner and attitude belie the fact that you don’t want to cross him.

Not wanting to return to school, Igby finds solace in the big city, and companionship from a pair of unlikely women:  Rachel (Peet), an up-and-coming “artist” for whom D. H. is both patron and lover, and Sookie (Danes), who turns out to be much more important to Igby than he could have realized…just the first of many surprises in store for him.

I could further describe the story and lead you to the conclusion you may or may not see coming, but a large part of the pleasure of the film is experiencing life the way it happens to young Igby, in both good and bad doses.  His family is a pained group, yet we can’t help but feel for them to the end, when a simple gesture of affection leads to a shattered glass as an exclamation point.

This is one of the year’s best ensemble casts, combining young stars with seasoned veterans who are professional enough to work with their youthful counterparts and not dominate them.  Goldblum turns in another memorable performance of the kind than no other actor besides him could quite pull off, while the elegant Sarandon injects Mimi with a kind of tragicomic regality.  Phillippe is terrific in the way he makes a humorless character so damn funny, and Danes is the perfect emotional counterpoint to Igby’s sudden thrust forward into maturity.

But the picture hinges on Kieran Culkin alone…in a complex role with many subtleties, one misstep from him could have been disastrous.  He continues his strong string of work here as Igby.  He handles the humor and emotion with equal skill, and gives the troubled character his humanity and likeability.

Igby may be, in some ways, an incarnation of Holden Caulfield.  The world is waiting to see, however, if the Culkin family ends up like Salinger’s other noted creations, the Glass family, in which once famed and brilliant kids all grew up to be haunted by the shadows of youthful images they could never live up to as adults.  I think Kieran to date is the family’s best, pure hope for the future.

Video ***

This is a quality anamorphic transfer from MGM in a film that contains mostly natural looking settings with nothing seemingly set up for purely stylistic points.  Detail level is fairly good…only a few darker images soften up a tad, but these aren’t much to be concerned about.  Colors and tones are well rendered, and the overall print is clean and well presented.

Audio ***

Though the dialogue is most crucial, there is plenty to like about this 5.1 mix, which sometimes uses the city of New York as a great ambient background to the story.  The balance between front and rear stages is good, though not a lot of crossover is called for.  Spoken words are clean and clear with no dropouts or distortions.  The .1 channel is used sparingly, but when absent, it isn’t missed, given the nature of the film.

Features ****

The disc boasts a good number of extras, starting with an entertaining commentary from writer/director Burr Steers and star Kieran Culkin.  This movie is actually the debut for Steers in those capacity…he as acted before, but this marks his first time at the helm, so his thoughts and comments were well worth hearing.

There  is also a short production featurette, a trailer, a photo gallery, and deleted scenes with optional Steers commentary.

Summary:

Igby Goes Down is an impressive movie debut for writer/director Burr Steers, and a film that solidifies Kieran Culkin as a genuine actor with a bright future.  A solid ensemble cast and a terrific script that captures both the humor and heartache of youth and the terrible ways we love our families make this one very much worth checking out.