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Igby Goes Down

Starring Kieran Culkin, Ryan Phillippe, Claire Danes, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Cunningham and Susan Sarandon
Written and Directed by Burr Steers

IN SHORT: Yet another angry teen movie, utterly without any redeeming value whatsoever. [Rated R for language, sexuality and drug content. ]

Some time in the near future, an arch-Conservative rabble rouser will wheel out Igby Goes Down as the Anti-Christ of Hollywood movies. Anti-Family. Anti-American Way of Life. The usual self-Hatred spewed by ultra-Liberal types who despise the comforts that a capitalistic economic system afford them. If you've walked the planet for more than a couple of decades, you probably know the routine. In this case, though, the example is hand delivered and fits almost to a tee everything the rabble rousers scream about. Rarely have we seen an even dozen A-list print and television critics lined up like Olympic runners at a 30 yard dash, desperately waiting for the first sign that this monstrosity of a movie called Igby Goes Down was over, so that they could get the hell out of the screening room. But they did and we saw it with all four eyes.

Igby Goes Down, and we're reverting to the filmstudentmindthink that we revile to do this analysis, is about rebelling against the need to present the comfortable facade of success that the higher economic classes must do. Beneath that facade, of course, is a teeming sewage pit of really ugly stuff. Only a youthful observer, pristine and not yet totally corrupted by the wealth that will eventually be his, can rightfully guide us through the drek and dredge and disgusting hypocrisy of his class.

In language the common man or woman can understand: the story of Igby Goes Down is about the kid hasn't got access to his trust fund. He wants the money and he wants out.

We were taught one important thing way back in our disavowed film school days and that was the important point that all stories must have at least one element that will make an emotional connection with an audience. It could be a character or a story and it doesn't necessarily have to be a positive, life-affirming ideal, either. You may be repulsed by a character's actions but, if you understand the underlying reasons, you may at least appreciate the performance in the overall story. That being said, let's take a look at the characters in Igby Goes Down. Follow our main character as he bounces among his social group and see if you can figure out the empathetic elements.

     Jason Slocum, Jr (Kieran Culkin) aka "Igby" is a perennial failure at all the high priced private schools he is shunted among year after year. His visage is that sort of whiny looking blank mask that makes all his fellow students want to beat the crap out of him, which they do with regularity. Igby "goes down" but not yet for the count. His summers are spent at places like the "Clipped Wings Teenage Wellness and Rehabilitation Recovery Center," for the boy takes after his parents . . .
     Father Jason Slocum, Sr. (Bill Pullman) is so stressed out by the never-ending battle of maintaining the high standards that go along with the ultra-high economic bracket his family inhabits, that he now stares into the distance of his white on white room at the "Maryland Home for the Befuddled," richspeak for exactly the kind of mental institution you think it is. A place for rich folk to disappear in.
     Devoted mother Mimi Slocum (Susan Sarandon), a regular visitor to the Ronald Reagen Institute -- a detox clinic for a never-ending pill popping jones -- spends most of her time enduring the grind of finding new schools to take her younger son off her hands. Finally mom dumps Igby in the Pershing Academy Military School. The difference between a Military Academy and a private school is that the Commanding Officer of the former is paid to track down truant students. After a lifetime of relegating the raising of her son to others, she demands total love when lumps start showing up on her aging body.
     Igby's only friend is Sookie Sapperstein (Claire Danes), a middle class Jewish girl who, thanks to her job as a caterer's aide in the Hamptons, gets to hang with the better sort of people. That better sort includes Oliver Slocum (Ryan Phillippe), Igby's elder brother. "Ollie" is, as Igby describes him, a neo-Fascist young Republican, top of his class in high school and star Freshman at Columbia University. He is the apple of mom's eye and, while hated by his brother, does his familial responsibility to clean up after and watch over the youngster. Stealing the (Igby assumes she's his) girlfriend is a sweet bonus.
     "D.H." is Igby's Godfather (Jeff Goldblum). The man is so phenomenally wealthy that both boys will work for him, hoping to get their hands on a wee bit of that pie. D.H.'s wife may have been a looker when they were young, but in middle age her sub-par IQ protects her from her hubbie's indiscretion. That "indiscretion" is Rachel (Amanda Peet), a drop dead looker who makes Igby all sweaty in a way that any seventeen year old boy would get sweaty. Rachel is a junkie. In turn, she's got her own kind of "indiscretion," though we doubt that there's anything sexual in the relationship between her and Performance Artist Russell (Jared Harris). Other Performance Artists in Russell's circle include a transvestite Lorna Luft impersonators -- the only belly laugh in the entire movie -- that cross Igby's path while he's crashing in the loft space used by Rachel and Russell, hiding from his family and making spending cash running drugs for the biological male in that pair of "R" named humans.

The moral of his story is: "Don't kill your mom until she places the signed check for your trust funds in your hand (unsaid is the legal necessity that the check must clear the bank. Then you can throw mama from the train, whatever.) More to the point, Igby carries such a load of rage that his reaction at the end of the Third Act is entirely understandable (which fulfills the dictate of sympathy for an unsympathetic act) but the construction of the film is such that the point is lost to all but those who sit and analyze the frame by frame content.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Igby Goes Down, he would have paid . . .


and worth every penny

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The Cranky Critic website is Copyright © 1995  -  2017  by Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.