Igby Goes Down Review

The Slocumbs are a rich Manhattan family with slightly more odd characters than the norm. Igby’s mother Mimi (Susan Sarandon) pops pills like Smarties and is frightfully demanding and domineering. His father, Jason (Bill Pullman) suffers from mental illness and is no longer on the scene, the fatherly duties taken over by Igby's godfather, DH (Jeff Goldblum). Igby (Kieran Culkin) is the black-sheep of the family and his brother Oliver (Ryan Phillippe) is everything Igby isn’t. Igby flunks his grades and manages to get himself turned away from all the exclusive East Coast Academies, much to his mother’s frustration. When he gets kicked out of military school, he decides he has had enough and tries to make it by himself in New York, staying at the apartment of DH’s mistress, Rachel (Amanda Peet), fooling around with her and a waitress he has met, Sookie (Claire Danes). Igby gets laid. Igby kills time. That’s Igby Goes Down.

"Instead of saying that someone or something is funny – just laugh", says Igby to Sookie at one point in the film and therein lies the problem with Igby Goes Down. It’s the kind of film you say is funny without it ever actually making you laugh. The dialogue is not particularly witty, but it is clever. Igby Goes Down however would desperately love to be cleverer and wittier than it really is. It aspires to JD Salinger, but it has none of the psychological insight of Franny & Zooey (Igby & Sookie?) and none of the bite of Catcher In The Rye. Igby Goes Down would love to be mentioned in the same breath as Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, but it has none of the charm and unpredictability of Wes Anderson. It tries to emulate Metropolitan, but it never lets you into the characters’ world or treats them with the same genuine affection or understanding as Whit Stillman. Ultimately the characters are superficial, transparent stereotypes and its poking fun at the rich Manhattan society is about as pointed and as subtle as American Beauty (ie. not very).

There is not one real well-rounded person here, or if they are based on real people they are not very interesting ones. Even Igby, for all his clever put-downs and his scorn and distain for the social circle he has been born into, has no personality of his own. He’s against everything, but he is for nothing, and yet he is perfectly willing to use the same society he despises when it suits him. Is he moved or affected when someone close to him nearly dies of a drug overdose? No, he becomes a drug dealer to make money and doesn’t see the irony. There is a pitiful attempt to imbue the character with some motivation, somehow standing up for his father who has been destroyed (although not by society or Igby's mother, but through mental illness), but this cod-psychology carries no weight and is almost buried below all the wise-cracking.

The slightness of the script, the non-existence of anything resembling a plot and the vacuity of the characters however do not get in the way of some good performances from the cast. Kieran Culkin is fine, looking like a young Robert Downey Jr. - but he delivers all his improbably spontaneous lines in a flat sardonic tone that becomes monotonous and wearying after a while. The film is worthwhile for a great performance from Susan Sarandon as Igby’s viperish mother while the other female characters barely rise above the role of "love interest". Bill Pullman’s delivers a touching, but minor performance as Igby’s schizophrenic father. For me though, Ryan Phillippe as Igby’s brother steals the show – icily scornful with an "above all this nonsense" attitude. Maybe that’s why I liked him.

The 2.35:1 anamorphic image looks very nice. It is not clinically perfect – it has a good filmic quality to it with a noticeable but normal grain texture. It’s sharp with good clear colours and is an almost pristine print free from any marks or artefacts. There is some minor edge-enhancement which is mildly irritating at times.

The sound is Dolby Digital 5.1, although the main body of the soundtrack is channelled through the centre speaker, which is fine – it’s that type of film. There are only one or two occasions when the sound spreads wider to the front speakers for some sound effects, saving it mostly for the rather predictable and self-consciously bohemian alt-rock soundtrack of The Dandy Warhols, The Beta Band, Coldplay and Travis. Don’t know how they missed The Stereophonics – they must not be as big in the US. The centre channel is low and when the sound does open up it tends to slightly submerge the dialogue.

In Search of Igby (16:35)
The making of documentary is presented in 16:9 letterbox and features cast and crew interviews and behind the scenes footage. It’s a typical fluff piece though – too many interviews of actors talking about how great it was to be working with other great actors.

Burr Steers and Kieran Culkin share the commentary duties, but it is not that interesting. They mainly talk about what they love about each scene, whether it’s the camera movement, the lighting, the actor or the reaction shot. They refer to one or two deleted scenes that aren’t included in the extra features, but generally it’s not a very informative commentary.

Deleted Scenes (10:08)
This one of the few films where the deleted scenes really are worthwhile and would have improved the film somewhat if they had been kept in. They really shouldn’t have removed any of the deleted scenes starring Susan Sarandon. She is fabulous here. The deleted scenes are presented in slightly lesser quality, letterboxed to 2.35:1. The director provides an optional commentary.

Behind The Scenes Photo Gallery
A fairly extensive photo gallery of around 45 images.

Theatrical Trailer (2:03)
The trailer is presented in anamorphic 2:35:1 and it looks good.

The film has some good performances – from Sarandon, Pullman, Phillipe, Goldblum, Harris - and there are some good scenes in Igby Goes Down, but the whole film doesn’t hold together and the point of the story isn’t clear. It tries too hard to be off-kilter and slightly wacky, but there is no depth to the characters, rendering the whole enterprise shallow, unoriginal and unimaginative. Igby is an ass, and if the film is supposed to be some sort of voyage of self-discovery we don't get to see what he discovers. The end of the film leaves Igby in a position to be himself and escape from everything that has supposedly prevented him for being himself, but we are never clear what has held him back, what he wants to be or what it is he becomes. A lot of critics liked this film, but I can't see why myself. Igby Goes Down is one of the most overrated films of the year.

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