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"Igby Goes Down"

Directed by Burr Steers.
Written by Burr Steers. 
Starring Kieran Culkin, Claire Danes, Ryan Phillippe and Susan Sarandon.
Release Year:  2002 
Review Date:  8/23/02 


Another day, another freebie.  “Igby Goes Down” doesn’t even open wide until September, but my friend Max hooked me up with a press screening of the film here in San Francisco recently so I checked it out.

“Igby Goes Down” is another in the long line of quirky ensemble dramedies that features way too many stars in way too little time.  Kieran Culkin stars as Igby, a 17-year-old misfit that has decided school is not for him.  So, he wanders around New York City avoiding his older, more scholarly brother (Ryan Phillippe), his dying mother (Susan Sarandon), and his institutionalized father (Bill Pullman).  After attending a party of family friend CH (Jeff Goldblum), he meets Sookie (Claire Danes), a vegetarian metaphysically-interested 20-something, and Rachel (Amanda Peet), a cracked-out mistress of CH that is a dancer.  Through all of this, Igby tries to figure out a scheme to get out of his hometown New York to start a new life.

So, as a coming-of-age story, “Igby Goes Down” has many of the traditional ingredients, and as a comedy-turned-drama, the script by rookie writer/director Burr Steers has plenty of laughs early on before turning into a serious drama.  The best thing going for this film is the performance by Culkin, who is a better actor than older brother Macaulay ever was.  In “Igby Goes Down”, Culkin just gives a really convincing, confident performance as the troubled teen, and he gets to do a little bit of everything in the film to show off his skills.  And, by being given the only really serious amount of screen time, it is good that our lead is so talented.  There are some hearty laughs early on, and the film’s language is partly responsible for that—Igby is a foul-mouthed bastard, but if what he is saying is funny, then it’s all good to me.

But, after about the midway point of the film, the laughs seem to dry up completely as Igby starts to seriously consider the consequences of alienating his family, deserting school, etc.  The support by all of those people listed above doesn’t help things either—save for Phillippe (who continues to impress as he avoids typical pretty-boy roles), almost all of these people are wasted and none resonates with the audience during or after your visit to the theater.  Peet, much like Morgan Freeman, seems to only read scripts that are exactly in her stereotypical role, it should come as no surprise that she wears too much makeup, has a brief sex scene, and looks drunk or high or lit in all of her scenes.  Pullman is in so little of this film that Max and I wondered after the film if he was even paid for it, and Sarandon must know the director to take a role like this one.  It was good to see Danes again, if anything because she hasn’t worked in a few years...her role is cool in the first hour of the film, but devolves badly in the film’s final third.

As a one-hour, R-rated, MTV teen comedy, the first hour of “Igby Goes Down” is pretty good stuff.  It is too bad that, like a surprising number of small/independent films this year, the ending fails to live up to the premise of the work.  It is funny—everyone seems to bad-mouth studio films, but this is one of the best years for born-and-raised studio films that I can ever remember.

Rating:  Matinee


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09