The initially quirky dyfunctional-rich-family story "Igby Goes Down" dissolves into a frustrating portrait of largely uninvolving characters.
By DAVID N. BUTTERWORTH
Jason "Igby" Slocumb Jr. (Kieran Culkin) is the 17-year-old product of a seriously dysfunctional family. His father, Jason (Bill Pullman) is bewilderingly and insanely schizophrenic; his mother, Mimi (Susan Sarandon), is a granite-edged matriarch with a long-term dependency on over-the-counter drugs; and his overachieving older brother Oliver (Ryan Philippe), in whose shadow Igby has forever found himself, is an overprotective Columbia University economics major and a young Republican to boot!
Following his father's inevitable nervous breakdown, Igby's world starts spiraling out of control as Mimi (the boys refer to her as such since "Heinous One" seems a bit of a mouthful) bounces him from one East Coast prep school to the next and then, finally, off to military academy in the Midwest goes Igby. But Igby, not one to take any form of schooling seriously, quickly absconds to NYC with Mimi's gold card in hand. His only chance of salvation arrives in the comely form of Sookie Sapperstein (Claire Danes), an earnest undergrad/existentialist he meets at a Hamptons party who offers Igby the two things he has never had love (perhaps), and the realization that he's not all alone in this world.
|IGBY GOES DOWN|
|Written and directed by: Burr Steers.|
Cast: Kieran Culkin, Claire Danes, Jeff Goldblum, Susan Sarandon, Bill Pullman, Ryan Philippe, Jared Harris, Amanda Peet, Bill Irwin, Rory Culkin..
Related links: Official site | All of David N. Butterworth's reviews at Rotten Tomatoes
Burr Steers's film it's his first as writer and director is nicely cast and finely acted but insists on throwing one unsympathetic character after another at us with predictable results: this quirky film soon begins to wear out its welcome when it becomes clear there's nobody to root for. Almost everyone in the film is either mad, mean, bored, or boring, and if they're not downing a drink they're popping pills aplenty. Needless to say Igby Goes Down is a real downer in every sense of the word.
In addition to the rebellious Igby, who appears more obsessed with sex, drugs, and killing his mother than truly finding himself (and/or the meaning of life, whatever), there's his godfather D.H. Baines (Jeff Goldblum, in one of his less Jeff Goldblum-esque roles and that's an excellent thing), whose only role in Igby's life appears to be to throw money at the boy, D.H.'s strung-out choreographer mistress Rachel (Amanda Peet, chalking up another gratuitous topless scene), and Rachel's "non-painter" artist friend Russel (played with flamboyant Nathan Lane-styled abandon by Jared Harris). These three, at one time or another, inhabit a SoHo loft where Igby finds himself hiding out more than once to escape the idiocies and challenges of Real Life.
This kaleidoscopic, relentlessly downbeat film plays a little like "The Royal Tenenbaums" as envisaged by Whit Stillman ("Metropolitan," "The Last Days of Disco") a talky, cryptic, often times witty but ultimately overripe look at wealthy, dysfunctional Manhattanites and the problems they're forced to endure. The 36-year-old Burr, who appeared in "Disco" and no doubt took some pointers from Stillman's style of prose, is not as self-conscious a screenwriter but there are times in "Igby Goes Down" when his characters sound overwritten (especially Philippe's Ollie, always one for a dry aside to his overbearing mother).
It's hard to single out an individual performance because they're all good. Culkin is especially strong as the sarcastic Igby and Danes is even better, grounded and fetching as the Bennington dropout. If only Steers had lightened up his screenplay in places, or given us something, someone to cheer for.
"Igby Goes Down" is a most promising directorial debut and a finely wrought character study. It's just too bad that the eponymous Igby, not to mention his peculiar friends and family, is an individual who's so persistently downtrodden and difficult to care about.
|OCTOBER 26, 2002|
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